Do You Speak Elderspeak???

                                              How Do You Speak to The Elderly?
What do we consider elderly to be anyway?  Most people think of the elderly as those that are infirm or have trouble seeing, hearing or with mental cognition.  How do you speak to the elderly??  This is an issue that was discussed in a recent Chicago Tribune article.  I find it interesting because I am a supporter of those growing older in a positive way.  Anything that presents a barrier to the happiness of older people piques my interest.
This is a startling fact.  Do you know that in our country the US Census Bureau shows that in the next 20 year there will be more people aged 65+ than children!  What this means is that how we treat and talk to older people will become even more important to strengthen the fabric of our society in this country.  I repeat– in our country!  Other countries do far better in their treatment of older people  India is cited in this article as one country that regards their elderly in high esteem and has a far different mindset on how to treat their older members.  This winer I visited Pago Pago and learned that on religious holidays people invited those that had passed away to their homes for dinner – figuratively! Also, in some cultures they bury their loved ones on the front yard.
                                                   What Is Elderspeak?
“Elderspeak” is a term used to describe the way many people tend to talk to the elderly. People will speak in a soft, babylike way. Anna Corwin, an anthropologist who studies the aging population defines it this way:
“It has a slow speech rate, exaggerated intonation; elevated pitch-raising your voice as if everything is a question; elevated volume, simplified vocabulary and reduced grammatical complexity; diminutives, like calling people ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’; pronoun substitution like using the collective pronoun “we’ and lots of repetition”
This type of talk is harmful to older people on several levels. Ones suffering from dementia can become agitated and resist care.  Corwin maintains using this type of speech can also result in a reduction in cognitive ability and create more problems.
We tend to revert to “elderspeak” with those having dementia or are other wise impaired in their ability to communicate.  This could take form in talking to those wearing hearing aids or suffering from macular degeneration in their eyes  this way.  These people have enough difficulty in communicating without being treated like children.
                                                     How To Eradicate “Elderspeak”
Corwin is able to give us a plan on how to speak more effectively to the elderly.  The first step is to engage the older person in storytelling.  This enables the person to talk and pause for more interaction from the other person.  The use of humor is also a great way to reach the elderly.  This is a way to diffuse tension and lighten the mood. The third way to reach the elderly is to give them a blessing.  They may not respond during the blessing but they tend to hear it.  Telling stories and giving blessings are interchangeable.  It doesn’t require extra training, but just the willingness to let go of past speech patterns and speaking like one adult to another adult is crucial.
How we treat the older population needs to change.  Successful aging shouldn’t be reflected only by the 90 year old running a marathon.   Lets try not to act like ageists, by segregating those people who we no longer think of as productive member of our society by talking “Elderspeak” to them.


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