when i started my nursing career, as a nurse assistant…working in home health and nursing homes, i received a very strong, unequivocal directive from my very spry, experienced nurse trainer that i should never, ever call a patient client any number of terms of endearment such as but not limited to:sweetie, dear, honey, etc.

the rationale was that it was demeaning…that while these people were frail, fragile and with limited mobility/mental capacity… it should always be remembered and respected that they were once capable adults, parents, workers, soldiers…

i was always taught to refer to them as miss/mrs/mr….until and if they request to be called by their first name…but still…never, never, never by immature/childish terms.

then i came to england…the land of terms of endearment…love, petal, sweetie…duck!

i felt reinforced reading this article

Professionals call it elderspeak, the sweetly belittling form of address that has always rankled older people: the doctor who talks to their child rather than to them about their health; the store clerk who assumes that an older person does not know how to work a computer, or needs to be addressed slowly or in a loud voice. Then there are those who address any elderly person as “dear.”

“People think they’re being nice,” said Elvira Nagle, 83, of Dublin, Calif., “but when I hear it, it raises my hackles.”

Now studies are finding that the insults can have health consequences, especially if people mutely accept the attitudes behind them, said Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, who studies the health effects of such messages on elderly people.

“Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,” Dr. Levy said. “And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.”

it’s definitly a cultural thing…in france, germany, sweden, japan there may be other very discreet but understood cultural protocols but everytime i call a patient sweetie i can still hear that nursing instructor who well into her 60’s shocked me by jumping up on a bed and straddling a dummy to demonstrate CPR saying…

they are not children or pets…treat them like adults!!!

2 thoughts on “elderspeak

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