Friday, 10 October 2008
Elderspeak is Damaging to Your Health
[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by the end of today for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]
You’ve read it here before, the story of one of the most demeaning encounters with ageism I’ve personally experienced when a 20-something job interviewer, while patting my forearm, asked: “Tell me your life goals, dearie.”
Young and midlife adults have so many ways of belittling elders with language – in everyday life, in print, on on TV and in the movies – that I’ve written more than a dozen blog posts about it. (Links to some are at the bottom of this story.)
Earlier this week, The New York Times published a story about what is sometimes called “elderspeak” based on a forthcoming study from the estimable Yale University associate professor of psychology, Becca Levy, who for years has been studying the health effects on elders of ageist language.
“’Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,’ Dr. Levy said. ‘And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.’
“In a long-term study of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising and not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.”
In other words, even aging couch potatoes with a two-pack-a-day habit fare better in terms of longevity than their healthier counterparts who succumb to believing the demeaning, cutesy put-downs.
According to nurse gerontologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing, “Dr. [Kristine] Williams (as documented elsewhere too) members of the healthcare community are among the worst offenders.
“…Dr. Williams and a team of researchers videotaped interactions in a nursing home between 20 residents and staff members. They found that when nurses used phrases like ‘good girl’ or ‘How are we feeling?’ patients were more aggressive and less cooperative or receptive to care. If addressed as infants, some showed their irritation by grimacing, screaming or refusing to do what staff members asked of them…
“She added that patients who reacted aggressively against elderspeak might receive less care.”
Elderspeak is so common, too many – speakers and elders – hardly notice when it occurs. One way to help combat these verbal assaults is to write about them on our blogs when we see or hear them, email objections to reporters and commentators who repeat them, and stop anyone else – sales people, healthcare workers, friends, neighbors, coworkers (and job interviewers) – when they treat us as children or dimwits.
Sixty-eight-year-old police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, quoted in The New York Times story, has a novel and forceful method of countering elderspeak:
“…she objected to people calling her ‘young lady,’ which she called ‘mocking and disingenuous.’
“…To avoid stereotyping, Ms. Kirschman said, she often sprinkles her conversation with profanities when she is among people who do not know her. ‘That makes them think, This is someone to be reckoned with,’ she said. ‘A little sharpness seems to help.’”
However we individually choose to confront elderspeak, let’s step up our counterattack on this disrespectfulness and help keep ourselves and other elders healthy.
Some Previous TGB Stories on Elderspeak
Ageism Can Kill
Older = Smarter, And Wiser Too
The Danger of Euphemism
Cast Your Vote in the Old Age Name Game
Why Language Matters
The Words We Use For Elders
Are You Elderly?
Elders As Children
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stone Riley urges us to believe that Blessings are the very substance of existence.]