A Surefire Way to Drive Older Clients Away

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A Surefire Way to Drive Older Clients Away

OK – so I confess. I talk baby talk to my dog. He’s little, and snuggly, and adorable – and it’s just so easy to call him cutesy names and fall into that simplification of short sentences that we do with babies, too. Just what is it about babies and puppy dogs that begs us to speak baby talk to them?  I think that it’s that aura of vulnerability that surrounds them. Vulnerability that begs us to be reassuring or coddling or just drippy-sweet.  They clearly need caretaking or caregiving, and we, as their protectors, want to make them feel secure and… well, loved. Thus, babytalk. It makes us feel as if we are providing that security and happiness we know they crave. We think it makes us sound supportive and helpful. It just seems to come so naturally. An email I received from an APHA member this week made me think about this topic. She shared her own elderly mother’s experience with a home health worker.  Hazel, the elderly mother (not her real name) is sharp as a tack, but knew she could use some assistance. Our member helped her mom, Hazel, find a private advocate. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. Turns out Hazel got frustrated because she felt pressure to do things, or sign things, or make choices she didn’t want to make. Specifically she felt as if her advocate wouldn’t listen to her or trust her ability to make decisions. I’ve heard this complaint many times before, from older people who have felt discounted when they have asked for help. The helper becomes patronizing, as if someone has thrown a switch and the older person can no longer think straight or make good decisions.  As if they are… babies. And then there is elderspeak, the spoken version of that patronizing, condescending attitude. We hear elderspeak being used when younger people call someone who is older “Honey” or “Sweetie.” But it doesn’t stop with the words that are used. It’s as much about tone, speed and assumptions as it is about cutesy nicknames. Slowed speech (have to…


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