Stop Using Elder Speak
When you meet someone, it is normal to talk to them like a normal human being, right? Why is it different when most people meet seniors?
I’ve noticed that when most people speak to our elders, they use terms like “sweetie” and “cutie,” and simple language, just like they would when talking to babies with limited understanding. Seniors have more experience and knowledge than most human beings living on this earth they should be spoken to as such.
The condescending language used when talking to seniors is known as elder speak. Some dental professionals and caregivers unintentionally use elder speak.
What Does Elder Speak Look Like?
Let’s say you have two patients and both have a toothache. The first patient is middle-aged and your interaction might go like this, “Hello Mr. Williams, I hear that you have a toothache, is it okay if I check your mouth?” This is generally what happens.
Now, imagine your next patient is a senior who is 80 years old. Some dental professionals would approach them like this: “Hi cutie, I heard that your mouth hurts, I’m going to go ahead and check. Is that okay with you?”
Elder speak could also include speaking very loudly or speaking too slowly as if all seniors have a problem with their hearing.
Caregivers also sometimes make the mistake of ignoring the senior. For example, if an adult child or relative enters the room, they might speak to the child without looking at the elder.
Why Does Elder Speak Happen?
Older adults are living longer and many are living vibrant lifestyles. But some caregivers often only see the age of the senior and not their unique situation. They, therefore, make these assumptions based on stereotypes.
If you do this as a caregiver, you might miss important signs while talking down on seniors instead of engaging compassionately.
The Effects of Elder Speak
Some people might think they are being cute when using baby talk, but most seniors do not like being spoken to that way.
Research shows that using such language has negative effects. Over time, seniors might begin to lose their cognitive abilities.
When you don’t engage the seniors in conversation, it increases loneliness and negatively impacts their health.
Elder speak has been shown to correspond with behavioral issues and non-compliance in seniors with dementia, underscoring its negative effects. Elder speak also leads to irritation, withdrawal, depression, and low self-esteem.
In cases where dental professionals are using elder speak, it could lead to misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and patient dissatisfaction.
As dental professionals, it is important to build relationships with patients through mutual trust and understanding to produce positive and effective interactions.
How to Talk to Seniors
Use a senior’s name when addressing them. Avoid patronizing language and using pet names such as honey, cuties, and dearie. Ask open-ended questions and genuinely listen.
When speaking to elders, even those with dementia, tell stories to engage them. You can also tell jokes that are relevant to the situation. Laughter is a good way to engage people.
When you speak to elders with respect and dignity, you’ll engage them more and make them feel more revered. They are also more likely to comply with your requests.
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