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Patronizing Speech

Caregivers sometimes don't think that older people can communicate and understand well. Because of this, they may change the way they speak to older people.

They may:

  • Change their tone of voice
  • Speak louder or slower
  • Use pet names

This is referred to this as Elderspeak. Elderspeak tends to change a well-intentioned message into a harmful one.  Click here to download a related research article.

Not just for elders

Although patronizing speech is most commonly used with the elders in health care settings, there are other groups that are likely to be victims. Especially vulnerable are those who may have trouble taking care of themselves, such as people with:

  • Trouble understanding
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Severe disability
  • Developmental disability
  • Recent bereavement

Baby Talk

Elderspeak has many of the characteristics of language used with young children who are just learning the language.

Researchers asked a group of graduate students to listen to two sets of recorded messages.

  • One set was for older people by care givers
  • The other was for nursery-age children by teachers

After listening to the recordings, the graduate students thought that 75% of the messages from caregivers to older people were the teachers talking to the children. Click here to download the citation.

Other characteristics of ElderSpeak

In a study comparing physicians' language with younger people and older people, in addition to sounding like "baby talk", physicians using Elderspeak with older people:

  • Were more abrupt than with the younger people
  • Showed less interest than with the younger people
  • Allowed less opportunity for the older people to respond or interact 

Click here to download the citation.

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