'Baby Talk' Irritates Alzheimer's Patients – Caregivers For the Elderly Should Avoid Certain Patterns of Speech, New Research Says

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ABC News Medical Unit
July 28, 2008

RSS “It’s been a long road,” Luanne Baron says of caring for her 77-year-old mother, Phyllis.

Adult language rather than “baby talk” for elderly can improve quality of life.Baron, of Revere, Mass., took on the role of caregiver nearly three years ago, beginning at home and now during daily trips to visit her mother at a nursing home.

Phyllis has Alzheimer’s disease, which has dramatically worsened over the past year, Baron says. “The conversations were becoming more difficult in terms of making sense of things.”

And even though her mother continues to ask about Baron’s grandparents, who died about 30 years ago, Baron says that her own end of the conversation hasn’t changed, in spite of her mother’s disease.

“I try to speak to her and any other patient in the nursing home as the human beings that they are,” Baron says. “Whether or not it’s even comprehended, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re providing an answer that you would give to any other person who asked the question.”

But not all caregivers communicate the same way as Baron does.
Williams, who has more than 20 years of experience as a nurse working with older adults, says that based on this assumption, many hospital and nursing-home caregivers communicate in “elderspeak.”
This includes using basic vocabulary and grammar, speaking in a high-pitched or loud voice, sounding overly caring or controlling, and using terms of endearment such as “honey” and “sweetie,” Williams says.

“Elderspeak is a kind of talk or communication that is common between younger adults and older adults in a variety of settings,” she says, adding that it’s not too far from “baby talk.”

“As health-care professionals, we talk like this to older adults all the time, and we think that in doing this we’re giving them a message that we care about them,” she says.

But her latest study, presented Monday at the 2008 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, shows that this language might have the opposite effect.
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