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Elderspeak and Communication

Elderspeak and Communication

October 17, 2008 In the News

Leland (2008) reported when health-care workers use "elderspeak" ("Sweetie, Dear"...), the message received by the patient is often negative. Leland cited Dr. Kristine Williams (University of Kansas School of Nursing). Dr. Williams evaluated the impact of elderspeak on nursing home-based interactions between patients with mild-to-moderate dementia and staff members. When elderspeak was employed, the message received by the resident was that the resident was incompetent, which can initiate a host of self-esteem issues. Williams acknowledged staff members often were trying to show they cared for residents by using elderspeak, but the message received was again, often negative, indicating resident incompetence.

Leland noted that Dr. Vicki Rosebrook Macklin, executive director of the Intergenerational Institute (Findlay, Ohio), referred to elderspeak as a form of "bullying." Of course, there are some people who find elderspeak endearing and they respond positively to it. Others find terms like "young lady" (when applied to elders) to be mocking and disingenuous. Leland noted some elderly people find it quite objectionable to be called by their first name in what might be referred to as "faux familiarity." A quick check on Google found many professionals and patients objecting to "faux familiarity." Vroomen-Durning (2008) stated when a total stranger refers to her as "sweetie" (or similar names) it is insulting and demeaning. Bradley Bursack (2008) added that when speaking with elders, dignity is key. She noted the use of "diminishing terms" (i.e., "hon") as inappropriate.

For More Information, References and Recommendations:
Bradley Bursack, C. (August 2, 2008): Baby Talk and "Elderspeak" Disturbingly Related

Leland, John, (October 6, 2008): In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly

Vroomen-Durning, M. (2008): Nurse Turned Writer.

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