Study examines 'elderspeak' tendencies in LTC caregivers

Being alone with a resident makes elderspeak more likely to occur.
Being alone with a resident makes elderspeak more likely to occur.

Certified nursing assistants are more likely to use “elderspeak,” a form of patronizing speech used with seniors, if they are familiar with the resident, the resident has dementia or others are not around, a study finds.

Researchers from Oklahoma State and Minnesota State universities surveyed 134 certified nursing aides at nine nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the Midwest. The CNAs were asked to rank the appropriateness of elderspeak in 36 different scenarios. The speech was defined as simplified vocabulary or sentence structure, exaggerated intonation and vocal pitch; slowed rate of speech, use of personal terms of endearment (i.e. “honey”); and collective pronoun usage.

The CNAs were least likely to use elderspeak if the resident's family members were around, if other residents were present or if they had not interacted with a particular resident before. They were most likely to use it in negative situations, according to lead researcher Nathaniel J. Lombardi, a doctoral candidate at Oklahoma State. 

“The use of elderspeak may increase resistance to care, threaten self-esteem and well-being, and increase dependency among residents,” researchers warned.

They recommended training programs to improve communication.

Study results were published in November's Journal of Gerontological Nursing.