Elderspeak in Caregiving: The Impact on Alzheimer’s Patients

By Pete Lane, 8:00 am on

Similar to baby talk, elderspeak is a senior care term that refers to the use of simplified speech and grammar along with high inflections, inappropriate terms of affection (sweetie, dear) and a slowed speaking speed that is frequently used by Alzheimer’s caregivers to communicate with patients or loved ones. Recent research suggests that well-meaning family caregivers may want to rethink this particular approach to communicating with senior loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Making Patients Resistant to Care

The concept behind elderspeak comes from the fact that Alzheimer’s patients often experience a cognitive decline as the disease progresses. One study of the interactions between Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers found that patients were more likely to resist care when spoken to in elderspeak. Even patients who were unable to communicate verbally showed their frustration by hitting, kicking or grabbing onto something or someone nearby.

Elderspeak and Self-Esteem

Using a simplified speaking style with patients may cause issues with self-esteem and possibly impact their health. Patients may feel that they are being talked down to rather than treated as an adult, which may lead to a downward spiral in terms of their overall health by making the patient feel as if they are weak and feeble without offering any positive reinforcement.

Overlooking Non-Verbal Cues

In situations where Alzheimer’s patients are unable to clearly communicate, caregivers relying on elderspeak may overlook non-verbal communication cues or dismiss such mannerisms and reactions as symptoms of the disease. Incidentally, studies suggest that nurses and doctors are just as “guilty” of using elderspeak during their interactions with Alzheimer’s patients as some caregivers are, albeit often unintentionally.

Communicating with Your Loved One

What this research demonstrates is that family caregivers should base their engagement with loved ones on his or her individual capabilities. While there is nothing wrong with making sure a patient fully understands what is being said to them, caregivers should still avoid condescension, instead basing their communications on non-verbal cues like facial expressions and physical movements.

If you are having trouble communicating with your aging parent or loved one in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, learn more about professional in-home Alzheimer’s care in Centennial from Home Care Assistance. Our experienced and compassionate caregivers are highly trained in how to effectively communicate with patients, and know how to manage symptoms commonly associated with cognitive conditions. Call us today at 303-957-3100 to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation and don’t forget to ask about our Cognitive Therapeutics Method which is available exclusively to our clients at no additional charge.

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