'Sweetie' Talk Saps Seniors' Health

Condescending treatment builds poor self-image: study
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Oct 7, 2008 7:34 AM CDT
Studies show that elder health is negatively impacted by condescending language.   (Shutterstock)
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(Newser) – Many believe they’re bridging a divide with the elderly by calling them “sweetie” or “dear”—what experts call “elderspeak.” But studies show that such language may actually be hurtful to older people, causing “negative images of aging” that can trigger a “downward spiral” of depression, withdrawal, and increased dependency, a Yale researcher tells the New York Times.

Research from 2002 found that people with positive images of aging lived some 7.5 years longer—a bigger benefit than comes from exercise or not smoking. Meanwhile, an upcoming study shows that older people who hear words like “forgetful” associated with aging do worse on memory and balance tests. And often, the worst elderspeak comes from the mouths of caregivers.