“Aren’t they so CUTE!”
“Oh my god that older person is ADORABLE”
“Hi hun, how are you?”
Over the last couple of years in my physiotherapy practice, I have worked with a lot of older adults. Transitioning into the research sphere, I have been able to talk to a lot of researchers, clinicians, family members and community members about aging. But these conversations pail in comparison to the insight that I receive talking directly to my client. I have talked about their wishes, fears, hopes, aspirations and I have learned so much from these discussions. I have become a better clinician and frankly a better person for it.
One thing that I have noticed becoming more common especially talking to persons in my generation, is the concept of ELDERSPEAK. By definition, “a way of talking to older adults as if they were children or toddlers often done by members of a younger generation”. Recently I attended the Centre for Studies on Aging and Health conference. The final speaker was a journalist who recounted stories of her mother-in-law in the hospital. She journaled all of the terms that members of the healthcare team responded to her older family member with. Examples were sweetheart, hun, and my personal favourite, honey bun. In my day-to-day interactions with people I hear people talk about older adults as if they were a puppy or a baby all the time. I have even caught myself using phrases like that is “adorable” to describe interactions between older couples. It just isn’t appropriate. Persons who are older than you deserve respect from you in your interactions with them and about them. They do not LIKE being called “adorable” and “honey” and to be honest, I dislike it too. How many times have you gone into a retail store and the girl serving you is a decade younger and calls you hun?
Here’s the other thing … it’s also bad for business!
The Boomer generation and older is a BOOMING financial market. They are one of the most financially stable cohorts with disposable income to spare. Offending them with your tone of voice or choice of phrases will not lead to financial gain. I have had clients who have left stores where they were going to spend thousands of dollars because they were spoken to as if they were a child.
Older adults have a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom. Things that we could LEARN from! To take all of those experiences and speak with them as if they children is just rude. It does not show the respect that a person who has raised children or influenced others, contributed to our economy for many years and now has plenty of experience to share, deserves.
I cannot even place blame in one place. Often we do not even realize the impact that our words can have. Would you go up to your grandmother and say “Oh my god you are SO cute!” with an intonation in your voice that you would give to a puppy video on BuzzFeed? Not likely. If you wouldn’t say that to their face, you shouldn’t be saying it at all.
We need to start calling people out on their choice of phrases. We need to start being more conscientious of the words that we use. If we can do that, our clients, our family members and members of our community will feel more appreciated and respected.
Let this be day one and avoid using elderspeak!