Ever heard of the term “elderspeak”? Well, in short, elderspeak is speaking down to the elderly and oftentimes, not even noticing you are being condescending. A recent article in the New York Times addressed the negative implications of elderspeak which I found quite alarming.
The article showed that elderspeak takes many forms: A daughter goes out to eat with her elderly mother and the waiter only addresses the daughter. A salesperson addresses an elderly customer slowly and in loud voice. A paid caregiver routinely addresses a senior as “sweetie.” While all of these examples may appear harmless on the surface, research has shown that the effects of elderspeak on seniors can be quite detrimental. Perhaps worst of all, elderspeak can contribute to seniors having a negative self-perception, which is thought by some researchers to decrease life-expectancy by an average of 7.5 years!
As with most wide-reaching social dilemmas, the elderspeak problem won’t be resolved quickly, but we can each do something on an individual level. Our Elder Law team has found that basic common courtesies go a long way towards developing meaningful relationships no matter what the age is of the people we are serving. What have you noticed about elderspeak? What can we as a community to get rid of it?