Residents of long-term care facilities have names, too

Lise Cloutier-Steele

In the Dear Abby column of the December 2, 2011, edition of The Citizen, a woman complained that staff who cared for her mother at an assisted living residence were calling her “granny”, “grandma”, or “mamma”, and she didn’t think it was respectful.

This is one of the first things I noticed about the care staff when my late father was admitted to a long-term care facility in May 2007. Some called my father “honey”, or “hon” for short; others called him “sweetie” or “love”, and hardly anyone called him by his name. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I found it disrespectful, but I didn’t think it was appropriate.

In a follow-up column on February 2, 2012, a resident advocate and retired registered nurse with two advanced degrees responded that the use of “dear”, “honey” or “granny” is not only inappropriate but degrading, humiliating and hurtful. She added that standards of care and patients’ rights documents recommend otherwise.

In the same column, a registered nurse from Calgary, Alberta, added that the legal term for inappropriate names is “elder speak”. This term is more commonly known as “baby talk”, and the Calgary nurse stressed that it infantilizes elders and is detrimental to their care.

In our situation, I noticed that this practice created another problem when my father started using the same names for health care aides he barely knew. He suffered from frontal temporal lobe dementia, a condition that often leads to excessive flirtatiousness, so less familiarity when addressing him would have been preferable.

Though some families may find “elder speak” friendly and charming, some may not. Those who don’t appreciate this practice have a right to speak out on this issue, and when advised of such cases, staff and management of long-term care or assisted living facilities should respect their wishes regarding the use of appropriate names for their friends or relatives.