Understanding Elderspeak

It’s surely tempting to read a study, a blog post, an opinion, a case study and base how you act on the content. We do it all the time. “Is what I’m saying appropriate?”  “Is that PC?”  “Will this offend someone?”

Indeed, those are ok questions to ponder if you’re not sure and want to do what feels best. However when we consider what other people deem appropriate and ignore our own inner guidance,  our ability to be in touch with our intuition and connect meaningfully with others is compromised.

In the news again today was an article addressing “elderspeak”, the use of a condescending tone or words to communicate with senior citizens. This has been popping up since the New York Times ran an article referencing a Yale study that concluded speaking this way to elders can effect health.

OK, grain-of-salt, perspective time here. I get it. Of course I do, as a forerunner in my field on the topic of respectful communication. I’ve been promoting it for years with parents communicating to kids, teachers to students, leaders to their constituents, spouse to spouse, the list is endless.

But is taking a concept such as this, with as much validity as it may have, and negating your own common sense is what all-too-often happens. And what it the cost of that? Being even more removed from forming a relationship because of your hyper focus on what is or is not deemed appropriate.

I could find no evidence in the study as to the benefits of terms of endearment, of which I have seen many. I think a more useful suggestion would be to become aware of your habitual responses and speak more from the heart. Teach caregivers strategies for making connections with the people with whom they are in contact and know that the appropriate sentiment for the occassion will likey arise.

Since this study has been making the rounds, I’ve been glanced at askew more than once. When I hold Lilah’s hand and ask “Is there anything you need, darlin’?” her eye contact and mustering of a smile tells me she values our friendship, nicknames and all. When I call Rose my beautiful blossom she lights up and fills a room with her smile. When call Helen “sweetness” and stroke her face, this has a positive effect on her health, of that I have no doubt. On the other hand, when I speak with Ruth it’s obvious that lovey dovey is not her style. She prefers to be called by her first name. Mr. Livingston prefers a more formal interaction and Bob loves to flirt. And the time I spend with these friends is not paramount! This is visiting time for me within the realm of my career and personal life. Connecting from the heart does not require more time. In fact, I can probably get away with spending less time, because the loving energy I leave lingers beyond the physical interaction.

So take any and all information (even this post!) for what it’s worth to YOU. Don’t get caught up in rules that, when it comes down it, are all pretty arbitrary in the first place. Lead with your heart, listen with love and become familiar with what it’s like to connect, really connect with someone.

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One Response to Understanding Elderspeak

  1. Kaye says:

    Excellent points. I think the bottom line is attitude more than words and your attitude sounds wonderful! 🙂

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