Campus News

Clinical associate professor discusses harmful effects of ‘elderspeak’

Kerstin Gerst Emerson, a gerontologist and a clinical associate professor in the College of Public Health, was recently quoted in a Fatherly story about the negative effects “elderspeak.”

Emerson studies mental health and loneliness in older minority adults. She’s concerned that elderspeak—patronizing language spoken to older people—could make some elderly adults less likely to speak up in a health care atmosphere.

Although a communication shift is often necessary when speaking to someone who has cognitive decline, for example, elderspeak is never the answer.

“If you’re someone with cognitive impairment, and someone’s slowly speaking, you may start to lose track of what they’re saying, you might be confused why they’re shouting certain words,” Emerson said.

The story continued to discuss ageism and cultural ideals concerning a person’s value. Emerson added that the way American media often frames elderly people only fortifies bias about their worth.

Though Emerson said that ageism is one of the “last accepted isms in our country,” she said awareness is one of the most useful tools to combat it.

“The word respect is always key,” Emerson said. “This is an amazing human who’s had 80 years of life and has so many incredible stories. It’s valuing them and realizing that these are people who have lived a long life and have had more experiences than you have.”