“Honey” and “Dear” are terms of endearment when used properly- by the right person in the right relationship. However, extract those words from the proper context and you have maddening terms of condescension. It’s tough enough for middle aged adults to ignore the over-familiarity of these terms; it’s nearly impossible for the elderly.
A recent article in Long Term Living Magazine highlighted this issue by publishing a list of examples of undesirable “elderspeak”. The magazine defines it as “…the use of language that coddles older adults by focusing on their age and frailties instead of their abilities.”
“You don’t really want to wear THAT, do you, sweetie?”
“Are we ready for our bath today?”
“Well, dear, isn’t that just too cute for words?”
The use of terms like “Sweetie”, and “Dear”, or using first person terms like “we” can be insulting. They insinuate that somehow the person being spoken to needs simple talk to understand the conversation. Never underestimate the power of the elderly mind. An elderly person may have lived longer than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that s/he has become senile.
Most usually when healthcare professionals use elderspeak, they aren’t trying to be insulting. In fact, many just want to gentle or nurturing with the elder in their care. However, it is a good idea to find words to replace “dear” and “Hon”, and practice using them. It’s important to remember that the elderly, especially those aged 80 and above, grew up in a much more formal era than younger people, and expect to be addressed as Mr., Mrs. or Miss as a matter of respect.
It is especially important to use respectful language with those who are in the early throws of dementia and other memory diseases like Alzheimer’s. When a certain level of cognition remains, patients make an all-consuming effort to retain control over independence and dignity. The use of “baby talk,” ageist terminology and pandering tones can result in dramatic reactions ranging from screaming and crying to frustrated outbursts and angry resistance to care. Calling a dementia patient “dear” adds insult to injury and can remove the last vestige of dignity that they may feel.
For caregivers, this can seem to be so much political correctness getting in the way of delivering care with kindness. At Sevens Home Care and Residential Memory Care, we find that the best “language guide” is to put ourselves in the elder’s shoes. Would we want to be called dear? Would we want someone to say “Well, did we enjoy our meal today?” How angry would that make us and how would we react? At Sevens we find that kindness is relayed through body language, facial expressions and the human touch, in addition to the right words. We practice talking with the person, not at them, making eye contact and engaging them in care and activities of daily living.
Sevens Home Care provides support for you and your family, helping you to understand cognitive diseases while keeping your loved one at home. We primarily offer services in the individual’s private residence but will also provide one-on-one support for your loved one in assisted living and rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, hospices and hospitals. We go wherever and whenever a patient needs care on a regular schedule, weekly or monthly visits or for one-time respite care.
When it comes time for your loved one to be safe in a secure, memory centered facility, Sevens Residential Memory Care provides a safe, enriching environment. Our innovative house specializes in memory care including Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and is located in a residential neighborhood in Lakewood, CO. Accommodating only 12 residents and two full-time care partners, our model offers highly personalized supervision and a supportive community that fosters individual freedom.
To learn more about Sevens Home Care, call 303-470-1921. To learn more about Sevens Residential Memory Care and to schedule a tour call 720-477-1727.