Not only does using terms of endearment when speaking to seniors piss them off, studies show it damages their health.
Professionals call it elderspeak, the sweetly belittling form of address that has always rankled older people: the doctor who talks to their child rather than to them about their health; the store clerk who assumes that an older person does not know how to work a computer, or needs to be addressed slowly or in a loud voice. Then there are those who address any elderly person as “dear.” “People think they’re being nice,” said Elvira Nagle, 83, of Dublin, Calif., “but when I hear it, it raises my hackles.”
Now studies are finding that the insults can have health consequences, especially if people mutely accept the attitudes behind them, said Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, who studies the health effects of such messages on elderly people. “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.”
The studies also show that when elderly people are suffering from mild cognitive dysfunction such as in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, using elderspeak may cause them to react aggressively and then receive less care from angered health workers.