Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults

Photo by Neighborhood Centers
About a year after I started volunteering at a skilled nursing home, I observed a set of new teenaged volunteers who came to help with a craft at the monthly meeting of the Red Hat Society.  

I heard several of the volunteers speak slowly and loudly, using a sing-song voice.  In response, I saw many of the residents roll their eyes.   

Unfortunately, I had flashbacks to when I first started as a volunteer.   I had altered my speech inappropriately as well, hoping to be supportive but coming off as patronizing instead.

I have since learned to identify the features of elderspeak.  More importantly, I’ve learned to change my attitude.   

[Note: The links to this post were refreshed in January of 2018 to reflect current research.]

At its core, elderspeak communicates a condescending attitude.   And from that attitude the person’s language might demonstrate the following features of elderspeak:
  •  Speaking slowly
  •  Speaking loudly
  • Using a sing-song voice
  • Inflecting statements to sound like a question
  • Using the pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our” in place of “you.”: “How are we doing today?"
  • Using pet names such as “sweetheart,” “dearie,” or “honey"
  • Shortening sentences
  • Simplifying syntax (sentence structure)
  • Simplifying vocabulary
  • Repeating statements or questions
  • Answering questions for the older adult: “You would like your lunch now, wouldn’t you?”
  • In other ways talking for the older adult: “You are having a good time on the patio today, I see. And you have your pink sweater on, which you love. Right?”
  • Asking people questions that assume role loss, idleness and powerlessness such as “Who did you used to be?” “What did you used to do?” 

This post also appears at the fabulous blog Changing Aging.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Daphne and Carmen: Octogenarian Supermodels

Beauty is not the sole property of the young. I recently discovered the modeling work of Daphne Self, born in 1928 and Carmen Dell’Orefice  (pictured at the left), born in 1931.  Both are still working as of the date of this blog post.

Advertisers are growing savvy to the fact that older women control a lot of wealth. She-conomy passes on this fact: "Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth."

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, search for Daphne and Carmen on Google Images.  Or click on the links below where I have done that for you.

While we are on the subject of mature beauty, please investigate the work of Ari Seth Cohen who maintains the blog Advanced Style. He roams the streets of Manhattan, photographing beautiful women who just happen to be older adults. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

PC Terms for Aging

Photo by gb_packards
Because I spent 30 years in the field of composition and rhetoric before starting a graduate degree in gerontology, I am hyper-aware of the terms people use to describe older adults. 

For several weeks during the fall of 2010, I recorded all the terms that crossed my path in conversation, paper, and hypertext. The good, the bad and the ugly are listed below. 

Generally, the preferred term is older adult. 

Terms that connote station and vitality such as "elder statesman" and "mature" are strongly preferred over terms that connote weakness and emotional instability such as "elderly" or "dotage."

Again: In order to analyze how people are using language, my list is DESCRIPTIVE rather than PRESCRIPTIVE. Many of these terms are either dated or offensive.

Advanced  years
Elder statesman
Golden ager
Golden years
In a decline
Old / Old people
Old Fart
Older / Older adult
Old fogey
Old lady / man
Older generation
Retirement age(d)
Senescence / senescent
Senior citizen
Top generation
Vulnerable population
Winter of life
Wise / wizened

I invite you to ask yourself some of the same questions I asked about these terms: 

What Traits Make a Person an Older Adult?

Photo by Raphael Ullmann
Does autumn start on September 1st or on the equinox, which is September 21st? Or does autumn start when the leaves begin falling off the trees?   

The answer isn't clear cut.   

Just as vague is the answer to this question: At what age is someone considered an older adult? The most common answer is 65 plus, but that oversimplifies things.  

Just as there are many ways to identify the start of a season, there are several ways to identify the start of the life stage "
older adult." 

Jill Quadagno, in her textbook
Aging and the Life Course: An Introduction to Gerontology, suggests the following categories: Chronological Age, Social Roles and Age, Functional Age, and Subjective Age.

Like the changing of the seasons, most people enter the category "older adult" by degrees, accruing more and more category markers until there is little room for argument about their life stage. But for a period of time, many people 65 plus can still manage to hold on to many qualities of late middle age.  

Also, recognize that there is great diversity among those who hold the label "older adult," probably greater diversity than any other group of people from the other life stages.   

Ask yourself these questions: How old are you?  What social roles and responsibilities to you hold?  What are your physical abilities?  And how do you perceive yourself? How do others perceive you?  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Long-term Care Is More Probable as We Age

Photo by fairfaxcounty
Seventy percent of people 65 plus will use some form of long-term care.  This means that they will need help with ADLs and IADLs. These terms refer to activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, toileting or help with instrumental activities of daily living such as managing their medications, paying bills, and using a telephone.  

And with the Baby Boomers coming of age with increased longevity, the number of people requiring long-term care is projected to increase dramatically between 2020 and 2050. 

The type of long-term care an older adult receives may be short and provided by a family member. However, the older a person grows, the more likely he or she will need long-term care for longer periods of time. This may require some form of home health care or a period of stay in a skilled nursing center.   

Here are some statistics about long-term care:
  • Nearly 70% of Americans over 65 will require some form of long-term care.
  • Nearly 40% of Americans over 65 will spend some time in a nursing home.
  • The average stay in a nursing home is 2.5 years.
  • The average cost of a nursing home stay is about $70,000 a year.
ETA*: For additional pertinent numbers, see this 8/9/2012 news article by Christine Benz, which contains 40 separate statistics gleaned from caregiver organizations, government offices, and long-term care insurers. 

People pay for long-term care in a variety of ways: family caregivers, private long-term insurance, out-of-pocket spending, or Medicaid.  Note that Medicare does not provide significant long-term care.  For example, Medicare will provide at most 100 days of skilled nursing care (usually post-surgery). If people expect the government to pay for their long-term care, they will need to qualify for Medicaid, which requires that beneficiaries impoverish themselves first.

It's not quite evident how we will rise to the challenge of caring for older adults, but the topic is increasingly more prevalent in public discourse.  Do your part by staying informed on the issues related to aging, caregiving, long-term care, and government programs that support the frailest among our elders. 

ETA=Edited to Add


Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
More Seniors than Ever: Population Pyramids
Life Span (122) vs Life Expectancy (84).