Respect Your Elders Through Avoiding Elderspeak

We hope, however, when that baby’s grandfather enters the room, family members avoid responding similarly. Yet it happens so frequently, and can be so detrimental to the elderly, that there’s a term to describe it: elderspeak. Following are some tips on how to better respect your elders.

A recently available study by Susan Kemper, a professor specializing in gerontology at the University of Kansas, paired elderly listeners with younger speakers. In spite of the seniors’ instructions to simply listen without interrupting while the younger people spoke to them – thus leaving no suggestion to the speakers that they were having any difficulty understanding what was being said – overwhelmingly, the speakers resorted to elderspeak.

It’s interesting to note as well that seniors consistently refrain from using elderspeak with each other. Studies have found that for a lot of older adults, elderspeak conveys superiority and a cold attitude.

Why It’s Harmful

Simply put, elderspeak can be considered belittling and patronizing. It communicates feelings of inferiority and incompetence to older adults, rather than the admiration and respect they deserve. Although typically well-meaning and meant to communicate endearment, it frequently has the opposite effect. 

What to Do Instead

  • Thoughtfully consider how to address the older adults that you know. Many seniors find terms such as “young lady,” “dearie,” or “honey” to be offensive. 
  • Use caution when modifying the manner in which you communicate with an older adult according to individual need. For instance, speaking slowly and clearly while facing an older adult with hearing loss is beneficial. A high-pitched voice, however, may actually further distort the words. A senior loved one with memory issues can better follow the conversation if it’s broken down into simple, short sentences and yes-or-no questions. This can easily be accomplished without falling back to baby talk.
  • Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, as each person has unique preferences and challenges. An open and honest conversation with the person about how they would like to be addressed and spoken to is the ideal path to ensure you are engaging with them appropriately.

Seniorcorp places a great emphasis on respectful interactions with every older adult using our expert in home care in Virginia Beach and the surrounding areas. Contact us online or call us at (757) 640-0557 for an in-home consultation to discover more about how we can help promote independence for older adults with customized in-home support.