A study done by Yale University states that treating old people like children may cut up to 8 years off their lives.
The study warns of what they call ‘elderspeak’, which is defined as patronizing language used by the young. They specify words such as ‘sweetie’ and ‘dear’, which paint the elderly the same as small children. It is also said that speaking loudly and slowly is unnecessary.
Researchers say that this treatment toward the elderly can be distressing and affect their health. They note that health-care workers are often the worst offenders of this treatment. They may use words like ‘sweetie’ and ‘dear’ in an effort to be kind and caring to the elderly, but all this does is make things worse.
Professor Kristine Williams of the University of Kansas School of Nursing said elderspeak attitudes were equally hurtful to people suffering from dementia. ‘The main task for a person with Alzheimer’s is to maintain a sense of self and dignity. If you know you’re losing your cognitive abilities and trying to maintain your dignity, and someone talks to you like a baby, it’s upsetting to you.’
The study also noted that many older patients are annoyed by their doctors when the doctors speak to the patient’s children rather than the patient themselves. Going along those lines, the elderly get irritated by people that think they are not up on the latest technology in the world such as computers, cell phones and other gadgets.
Psychologist Professor Becca Levy, the author of this study, said: ‘Those little insults can lead to more negative images of ageing. And those who have more negative images of ageing have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival. Elderspeak sends a message that the patient is incompetent and begins a negative downward spiral for older persons, who react with decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal and the assumption of dependent behaviours.’
Researchers found that those with a positive attitude towards life can live up to an average of 7.5 years longer compared to those with a negative outlook.
660 people age 50 and over were used for this long-term study which will be published next month in The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.
I know many people don’t mean to ‘talk down’ to their elders, but I’ve seen many cases myself where an older person was treated like a child just because they couldn’t hear as well as others. That’s no reason to treat them like a baby, right? What do you think of this study?