“Elderspeak” is a unique pattern of speech – similar to baby talk – that younger individuals often adopt when speaking to the elderly. The tone of elderspeak can seem condescending, express unwanted pity, and potentially foster resentment among older adults.

The characteristics of elderspeak include:

  • Slow and careful speech
  • Simplified grammar
  • Assumption of helplessness
  • Exaggerated affectionate words (“sweetie,” “honey,” “dear,” “buddy”)
  • The use of “we” or “us” instead of “you”

Many older adults tolerate this treatment daily, even when they’re perfectly capable of understanding normal speech patterns. This degrading interaction can be harmful to their mental and physical well-being.

Roots of Elderspeak

When we speak to each other, we instinctively modify our speech to better convey our words. In situations where communication could be difficult, we automatically use simple forms of speech so someone with perceived limited ability can comprehend.

While younger people may not deliberately patronize older adults, they may use elderspeak subconsciously based on their belief of the elderly’s ability (or lack thereof) to understand and respond.

Effects of Elderspeak

Sing-song tones, exaggerated pronunciation, and baby talk are confusing tactics that distort messages conveyed to seniors. These techniques actually decrease comprehension.

Understandably, older people in full possession of their faculties are unhappy when addressed as children. Elderspeak’s negative effects can include:

  • Depression
  • Resentment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Embarrassment
  • Loneliness

Elderspeak may lead older adults to harbor increased anger and refuse to cooperate with assisted care. A baby talk speech pattern can be an attack on their dignity and self-worth.

Sensitive and Thoughtful Speaking

Here are some suggestions when speaking with older adults who have communication limitations or challenges:

  • Always speak respectfully
  • Use simple sentences to express complex ideas in bite-size parts
  • Repeat key points you wish to communicate, paraphrasing and changing the structure
  • Simplify your speech in favor of explicitness – communicate concrete information directly
  • Speak normally but distinctly (for those hard of hearing, speak louder but don’t change the tone or pitch of your voice)
  • Speak in a way that respects the dignity of the senior you are addressing

If you’re interested in more information about how home care can help you and a senior loved one, Contact a Home Care Provider Near YOU who is listed on ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources.

This article was provided by Bob Dailey, Owner of Visiting Angels East Valley in Mesa, Arizona – one of Arizona’s TOP Home Care Providers.  Bob Dailey and his company are Members of the National ElderCare Matters Alliance and have a Featured Listing on ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with their issues of Aging.


If you have additional questions about your family’s Elder Care / Senior Care Matters, you can count on ElderCareMatters.com (America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources) to help you find America’s Top Elder Care / Senior Care Professionals.  You can find Local Elder Care / Senior Care Experts by Searching our National Database by City and Service Category.  (This Search feature is located on the homepage of ElderCareMatters.com).

The Elder Care / Senior Care Experts who are found on ElderCareMatters.com can provide you with the help you need in a wide range of Elder Care / Senior Care Services, including Elder Law, Estate Planning, Home Care, Assisted Living, Care Management, Daily Money Management, Senior Living, Investment Advisory Services, Tax & Accounting Services, Wills & Trusts, Probate plus many other Elder Care Services.

We look forward to helping you plan for and deal with your family’s Issues of Aging.

Visit ElderCareMatters.com.

Elderspeak: What It Is and Why It Can Be Harmful was last modified: September 9th, 2020 by Bob Dailey