Thursday, February 4, 2010
Elderspeak in Nursing Homes: Sweetie, Can We Talk?
Elderspeak is a form of baby talk that most adults would not ordinarily use in conversations with other adults. As a hospice volunteer in nursing homes, I noticed elderspeak being used often with older residents, especially those who had dementia. For example, “Hi, Mr. Smith. I hope you’re enjoying your day? Did you have a good dinner?” might become a singsong version of, “Hey, Handsome. Are you behaving today? Did you eat all your dinner veggies like a good boy? You did? That’s my baby!” Imagine what an everyday adult would think about being addressed in this manner. But some nursing home staff members, caregivers, and others think nothing of speaking to residents in this manner. Unfortunately, stereotypes about the elderly often result in adults using elderspeak when speaking to seniors in general, regardless of the location.
Use of elderspeak implies that the resident is not competent enough to be spoken to on an adult level. Even when residents get used to being spoken to in elderspeak and seem not to mind, their self-esteem may be lowered. In addition, using elderspeak perpetuates stereotypes about the elderly and encourages ageism. Research by the University of Kansas School of Nursing reports that elderspeak use by nursing home staff increased the probability of resistance to care in older adults with dementia. These residents responded frequently with screaming or yelling, negative comments, and crying. It is far more helpful to respectfully use adult speech with clarity, while keeping in mind the uniqueness of each individual.
Frances Shani Parker, Author