Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hey, Honey, How are We Doing Today?

I know I've written about the topic of elderspeak before, but I think it's worth coming back to. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, elderspeak is a way of speaking that many use when talking to older adults, especially older adults with dementia. Some characteristics include simple words, short sentences, using a high-pitched sing-song voice, the use of inappropriate endearments, and the use of "we", and it's not the royal "we". If you're having a hard time understanding what elderspeak sounds like, think about the way most of us talk to infants or pets.

Negative reactions to elderspeak include pushing, pulling, refusing to do tasks, grabbing at people or objects, screaming and yelling or crying. In research studies I've seen, people exhibit these behaviors at much higher rates in response to elderspeak when compared with silence, or interacting in a normal fashion.

Sadly, the message about elderspeak is one that a lot of people just aren't interested in. I was recently asked to do an in-service on the topic at an assisted living community. You would think that the people working directly with residents with dementia would want to learn any tips that might make their jobs easier, but you would think wrong. I had a pretty bored and uninterested audience, and no one owned up to feeling offended if someone talked to them like they were 5 months old.