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.
Born and raised in the South, I was taught at an early age that all adults were entitled to the respect of being called by their formal names, such as "Miss Jones." Imagine my shock as a teenager the first time I was allowed to drive a car to pick up my grandmother from her job as a cook at a segregated white school. Young students of all ages were calling her "Lou." She allowed it because she needed the job. But the embarrassment in her eyes when she saw me witness this will never be forgotten. That night, my mother told me I couldn't pick up my grandmother from work anymore. For many older African Americans, being called by their first names or nicknames without their consent carries painful memories of historical racist condescension.
You can read researched elderspeak views of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) here.