What is “Elderspeak”?

What is “Elderspeak”?

By Lynn Podgurny


According to an analysis by Clarissa Shaw and Jean Gordon (Understanding Elderspeak:  An Evolutionary Concept Analysis, Innovation in Aging, July 2021), elderspeak does not enhance communication with older people.  “Elderspeak is a simplified speech register used with older adults which sounds like baby talk.”  It includes the use of a high-pitched tone, juvenile vocabulary, the use of “we” instead of “you, and endearments such as sweetie or dear.  People who use elderspeak have good intentions; they are trying to increase comfort, communication, and cooperation.  What cues the use of elderspeak is generally the perception that the older person is feeble or has a cognitive impairment.  This cueing often arises out of stereotyped perceptions and implicit ageism.

Some older people consider elderspeak to be nurturing but the majority consider it patronizing.  Studies have shown that when elderspeak is used with dementia clients, the result is “fighting, with a drawl, and subsequent poor health.”  There is little evidence that elderspeak has any positive outcomes and a strong correlation between elderspeak and resistance.

Elderspeak also violates person-centered communication practices which rely on individual recognition, negotiation, facilitation, and validation.

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