Guest Blogger: Bronia Michejenko RN, MSN, GNP, BC

Elderspeak is not something that is commonly taught in the healthcare professional’s curricula.  Therefore, many of us are not aware that we are using it or of the negative consequences of this stereotypical behavior.

Elderspeak  is a form of baby talk frequently used by health care workers. It is a patronizing and demeaning  form of address that tends to irritate older people.

Some examples:

  • The doctor who talks to the senior’s adult child rather than to them about their health.
  • Talking down to or ignoring an elder’s ability to speak and understand for herself.
  • The healthcare worker commanding a person to do something as if speaking to a child, such as “why don’t we go to bed (this type of language assumes dependency and is demeaning.
  • Using “dear, honey or sweetie” when addressing a senior.

Elderspeak  appears to be a speech pattern based on stereotypes not actual behavior because we frequently hear it used in situations where older adults are clearly functioning well such as in banks and restaurants.    Researchers in the field of Gerontology have documented that elderspeak can diminish an older person’s confidence in his or her abilities and can be damaging to an older person’s self-esteem and self-perception (O’Connor and Rigsby 1996).    A study by  Herman (2009)   showed that patients in nursing homes with dementia tend to be  more resistive to care with when elderspeak is used.

Elderspeak is subtle and can easily creep into conversations without your knowing it. You can increase your awareness of this behavior.  Be aware of how you are coming across to an elder. Avoid stereotyping. Refer to an elder by full name, or ask him what he prefers to be called. Avoid plural pronouns, which assume an elder cannot perform a function alone. Do not assume shortened sentences, slow or loud speech, or simplified language is necessary in order to communicate.  Avoid using “honey” or “dearie” as this keeps the conversation respectful

There are many positive ways to talk to our elders.   Using a rich and varied vocabulary makes any conversation more interesting .


  1. Kemper, S., Ferrell, P., Harden, T., Finter-Urczyk, A., and Billington, C. (1998). Use of elderspeak by young and older adults to impaired and unimpaired listeners. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 5, 43-55.
  2. O’Connor, B.P., and Rigby, H. (1996). Perceptions of baby talk, frequency of receiving baby talk, and self-esteem among community and nursing home residents. Psychology and Aging, 11, 147-154.
  3. Williams, K., Herman, R., Gajewski, B., & Wilson, K. (2009). Elderspeak communication: Impact on dementia care. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, 24, 11-20.

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