In a recent Time Goes By blog post, The Dangers of Elderspeak, Ronni Bennett examines the language commonly used when referring to seniors — particularly in health care settings — and the underlying attitude that often accompanies such words.
The post was inspired by a friend who shared her recent experience in an ER, where a young nurse commented that “old people tend to ignore or not realize [they] have symptoms.” Bennett writes this in response — and in defense of her friend: “Unfortunately, it is a common occurrence that the default attitude of many younger people – usually strangers – toward the old is that we are none too bright.”
Besides being hurtful on an emotional level, a 2002 Yale University study on “elderspeak” (the official term for this disrespectful language/perception) revealed this startling result: it hurts life expectancy too. “Being the target of it can shorten an old person’s life by up to 7.5 years,” according to a Yale psychology professor, Becca Levy.
In the coming years, older adults will comprise the largest majority of the world’s population. Regardless of the numbers, I think it’s time to revive the “respect your elders” principle. It’s time to dialogue about what respecting the older adults in our families, communities and societies looks like today, and it starts with each one of us taking a closer look at the way we view, and speak to, the seniors we encounter every day.
Dig deeper: Read my post, Respect Your Elders: Mrs. Smith vs. Sweetie, and review the insightful, thought-provoking comments shared about this hot button issue. Add your thoughts to the discussion too!