Posted by: Jeremy McKenna on 12/8/2010

I’m mad as hell about the way our elderly population—our parents, relatives, our senior relatives and friends—are shoved aside, tormented, victimized and abused.  They’re perfect targets for this kind of treatment, particularly if they’re living in a so-called “care” facility, such as a nursing home.  After all, seniors are committed to these places because they need assistance with “Activities of Daily Living”—the “tasks of everyday life,” such as eating, dressing, preparing meals, managing money, and shopping, which are required skills for independent living.  

When our elderly loved ones are unable to handle the activities of daily living, they are, to some degree, helpless—which makes them perfect targets for mistreatment.


Kristine Williams is a University of Kansas School of Nursing researcher.  After spending several years studying how we communicate with older people, she's found that "Elderspeak"—using baby talk and demeaning names (for example, “Sweetie” or “Dearie”)--is pervasive in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 
Williams analyzed everyday interactions between nursing home residents with dementia and their caregivers.  When the staff used “Elderspeak,” residents were twice as likely to be uncooperative as when they were spoken to in a normal adult tone.  They showed their displeasure by pushing away, issuing threats, grabbing things, clenching their teeth, crying and screaming, hitting and kicking.

“People with dementia realize they’re losing their cognitive abilities. One of their challenges is to maintain their sense of identity. If they’re talked to like an infant, it can be very disturbing,” Williams says.  “They recognize they’re being talked down to, and they find it patronizing and demeaning.”
What should family members do when they witness “Elderspeak?”  "Try and tell (the caregivers) a little bit about your loved ones, that they were a high-functioning adult," Williams recommends.  "Get them thinking more of the person in terms of that competent adult framework. That might be a better approach."

We at Great Places are appalled every time a senior is mistreated.  That's why we'll name names, publish mug shots and describe in detail the abuses they suffer.  THE SENIOR WATCHDOG is on the case.

"Elderspeak" is just one of the many outrages that helpless seniors are forced to endure in nursing homes.  NEXT, we'll reveal some disturbing news about California home healthcare aides.

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