The New York Times had a really interesting article up yesterday about the condescending language some use addressing older people, “In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly.”
To study the effects of elderspeak on people with mild to moderate dementia, Dr. Williams and a team of researchers videotaped interactions in a nursing home between 20 residents and staff members. They found that when nurses used phrases like “good girl” or “How are we feeling?” patients were more aggressive and less cooperative or receptive to care. If addressed as infants, some showed their irritation by grimacing, screaming or refusing to do what staff members asked of them.
The researchers, who will publish their findings in The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, concluded that elderspeak sent a message that the patient was incompetent and “begins a negative downward spiral for older persons, who react with decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal and the assumption of dependent behaviors.”
Dr. Williams said health care workers often thought that using words like “dear” or “sweetie” conveyed that they cared and made them easier to understand. “But they don’t realize the implications,” she said, “that it’s also giving messages to older adults that they’re incompetent.”
I’m really glad that the NYT addressed this – and I think that an ageism/sexism combo probably really adds to the “sweetie” effect as well.
I like Ellen Kirschman’s response: “As I get older, I don’t want to be recognized for my age. I want to be recognized for my accomplishments, for my wisdom.”
To avoid stereotyping, Ms. Kirschman said, she often sprinkles her conversation with profanities when she is among people who do not know her. “That makes them think, This is someone to be reckoned with,” she said. “A little sharpness seems to help.”
Heh, nice. Before my grandmother (my Nanny Ann) passed away, when she was sick with dementia, she would often curse up a storm and get pissed when babied by her caretakers. An example: She was on the phone with my sister and the woman who was caring for her was making her mad. Vanessa sat there in horror as dear Nanny Ann screamed, “Leave me alone, you whoremaster!” and “Stick it up your hole!” The call ended when with my very frustrated Nanny saying “Ah fuck it,” and hanging up. Oh, Nanny, I miss you.