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How do you speak to the elderly?
Mary Kay Evans
One of my strongest pet peeves as a social worker is persons speaking to seniors as if they're small children or in a dismissive way. I hate to hear people calling them "sweetie" or other names like that unless they are related or friends. To me, a total stranger calling you "sweetie" or something similar is insulting and demeaning.
I know people mean well—they think it's a way of connecting or being kind. But it seems I'm not alone in thinking that the end result is not what they wanted. This type of talk is called "elderspeak" as opposed to baby talk.
In a recent study, researchers watched how caregivers interacted with patients who had mild to moderate dementia. They found that the patients who were talked down to ("good girl" and "how are we feeling?", for example) became more aggressive and uncooperative. Those who weren't verbal showed their displeasure with their facial expressions and by being resistant to care. This can become a downward spiral because those who are providing care tend to limit the amount of time they spend with patients who are more difficult to care for.
And the language —what about the language that is used? When it was time to eat, it's far better to say something like, "let me put this on you to protect your clothes," or "let me put this cover over your shirt." instead of Bib. And diaper? Never. Caregivers should say I am changing your brief. It's just a word, but a diaper? No, it's not a diaper. Babies wear diapers.
How do you - as non-healthcare people treat seniors? I know one person who doesn't let her completely lucid 84-year-old mother make her own decisions in a restaurant. The daughter orders for her mother and tells her mother that she doesn't need what she really wanted. The daughter answers for her mother too. And—there's nothing wrong with her mother. It is of such importance to allow seniors to continue to make choices and decisions for as long they can, even simple choices like which dress would you like to wear today, or would you like coffee or tea. So many times as caretakers they rush through the day and it is hard to remember that their loved ones still need to feel their input is of value because it is.
We do everything we can to encourage independence in our children—why does this change with our elders, who are still to some degree able to make choices?
For more information, please contact Care Pathways Senior Services. Caring for Seniors and Families since 1999.
Contact (714) 743-6309 or www.carepathways.net
Ongoing Case Management is now available to North Orange County Seniors as well as Assessment and Referrals to all Orange County Senior Care Services, Contact Mary Kay Evans for speaking at your event.