Infantilization Of Seniors, A Degrading Trend And Why It Matters.

March 24, 2017

Are people aged 65 +/- societies new children?

When you read about ancient societies and cultures there is often an old wise woman or man who tribes and villages look to for wisdom, insight, and depth. Cultures around the world used to depend on the wisdom and strength of their elderly but it’s a new day and the way we treat seniors has shifted. Instead of using them for their knowledge, so many people have shifted towards treating senior citizens as an inconvenience. More than that, a degrading trend is the infantilization of seniors.

The infantilization of seniors put simply, is a degrading trend that we see among those taking care of the loved one in their life. Infantilization is when you are treating or condescending to someone as though they were still a young child. It’s also referred to as elder speak.

Although seniors are grown adults with a lifetime full of experience and adventure under their belt, it’s become a common practice to talk and treat them like children. It happens everywhere and with everyone, family, neighbors, customer service representatives and even with health care workers.

We’re here to tell you that words matter. How you speak to the loved ones in your life matters. The impact of not changing how you speak to your loved one may impact their long-term health. How we care for your loved one matters.

What many people don’t realize is that treating them this way, talking down to them, it’s detrimental to their health. It’s often natural to want to refer to a senior as ‘honey’, ‘ sweetie’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘adorable, ‘young lady’ or slowly enouncing words and other babytalk, but doing so in the wrong way can cause more harm than good.

How people degrade senior citizens

A few other ways that people often degrade seniors are:

  • slowing their speech pattern
  • raising the volume of their voice (when unnecessary)
  • singing sentences
  • treating them as commodities or mascots just because of their age. We’ve all done it. You may not realize you’ve done it but every time you see an elderly couple holding hands and say “they’re sooo cute”, that’s treating them as a mascot.

Why it’s important to treat senior citizens with respect

The list of reasons why we should not degrade the elderly in our lives often feels infinite, here are a few reasons why we need to respect them:

  1. Respect allows for human dignity, dignity at any age is the cornerstone of existence for any human.
  2. How we treat elders can impact their health.
  3. If we don’t, it makes them feel incompetent
  4. It can cause those with cognitive problems to be livid
  5. Not changing how we talked to them is often a form of bullying. No one likes a bully. Remember how you felt as a kid when you were being antagonized for your age? No one likes it. You can love someone and still unintentionally be a bully.
  6. Senior citizens want to be recognized for who they are, not the age they are.

As caregivers, it is our responsibility to not just make sure those in our care are alive and living but that the quality of life we help provide ensures that they are happy and fulfilled human beings. We have one job, and that’s it. Together, we can all change how we treat the senior citizens in our lives.

What can we do about it

Age should have no bearing on human dignity and respect. Their worth does not change merely because their age has increased. It’s up to us, as caregivers, as family, as friends, as neighbors, as good human beings, to make sure that we look after our elderly. After all, we’re all going to be there one day aren’t we? Besides, we believe in taking care of one another.

Here’s what we can do about:

Normalize conversation topics

It’s easy to want to talk about the simple things with the elderly, after all, isn’t it such a beautiful day? The reality of it is, they want to talk about normal things. Some of that may even be sexual in nature. *Gasp* That’s right. Something like 80% of people between the ages of 50 and 90 are sexually active but because they don’t talk about it, they’re less likely to get tested for STD’s and other things. We have to normalize the conversations we have with our elderly because it helps the quality of their life.

Talk to them as you would talk to any other adult

Not only should we all normalize what we talk to seniors about but we should also normalize how we talk to them. Changing our communication styles for senior citizens just isn’t necessary. If you’re used to cursing around your grandma, don’t stop just because she’s aging. If you spend time with an aunt, there’s no need to all of a sudden start calling her sweetheart. It’s one thing if these are a part of your norm, it’s another thing if it belittles, condescends or diminishes their dignity. What is okay for one person may not be okay for another, we all have our preferences after all. If you’re unsure about how you’re talking to someone, just stop to ask yourself if that’s how you would talk to any other adult.

Ask them things – they still know how to do things after all.

Treat them like adults

Happy at Home trains all of our caregivers to talk to and treat our clients with the utmost respect. We do this by providing all of our staff ongoing training on numerous aspects of aging and geriatric care. We work endlessly to match each one of our clients with a care professional that will match their personality, care needs, and schedule.

Happy at Home is an in-home care company providing exceptional in-home care services. Our personalized care offers peace of mind and gives your loved ones the one-on-one care they deserve. We are located in Chico, Sacramento and opening up soon in Southern Oregon. Please contact us today if we can help you or your loved one with care.