Respectful Communication

It’s so important to be intentional and kind when we communicate with individuals with dementia.  There are many things that we can do to improve our communication, such as set a positive tone, be clear, and keep sentences short.  You can learn more communication tips from our previous blog post here.

Another very important aspect of good communication is RESPECT.  At times, caregivers can use what is called “elderspeak,” or baby talk.  Elderspeak is communication that is significantly slowed and simplified, spoken in a sing-song voice, and/or includes endearing terms (miss, little lady, honey, etc.).  Elderspeak can also include unnecessarily using the pronouns “we” and “us” in place of “you.”  For example: “How are we doing today?”

Elderspeak is often unintentional.  A care provider is genuinely trying to be supportive, but their communication comes across as patronizing.  This is why it’s so very important to be intentional about how you communicate with your loved one with memory loss.

Reasons to Avoid Elderspeak

  • It can be confusing.
  • It can be embarrassing for your loved one.
  • It can lead to agitation, upset feelings, or episodes of lashing out.
  • It can be damaging to your loved one’s mental health and wellbeing.  It can lead to decreased self-esteem, depression, and withdrawal.
  • It assumes your loved one is childlike, weak, and/or incompetent.
  • It assumes that the speaker has more power and knowledge than the listener.

4 Simple Tips for Avoiding Elderspeak

  • Remember that your loved one is an adult and deserves respect. 
  • Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.  Before you say anything, ask yourself: How would I want to be spoken to.
  • Be Aware.  We all do better when we pay special attention to the words we are using and our tone of voice.  It’s okay to slip up and say the wrong thing, but we can learn from those mistakes and do better in our next communication.
  • Choose your words carefully – especially when talking about everyday items!

Some examples:

  • Disposable brief vs. diaper
  • Toilet vs. potty
  • Bedside toilet vs. potty chair
  • Butt or rear vs. hiney
  • Cup with a lid vs. sippy cup

Adults with dementia and seniors are adults and deserve to be treated with respect.  Let’s do everything in our power to make sure they get the respect they need!