Overcoming Elder speak: A Qualitative Study of Three Alternatives

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Purpose: This study identifies genres of communication that avoid the features of elderspeak and successfully engage cog- nitively or physically affected older adults in rich communicative interaction. Design and Methods: The study examined 100 hr of audio- and video-recorded interaction between older Catholic nuns and their caregivers. The data were collected as part of a 7-year study on the linguistic and communicative factors that contribute to successful aging in a Catholic convent infirmary. Data analyzed in this article were selected from the corpus based on 2 criteria: (a) the interaction was absent of elderspeak and (b) the interaction was between a communicatively or cognitively impaired older adult and a caregiver. Results: Linguistic analysis of the interactions revealed 3 alternatives to elderspeak that maintain lexically and grammati- cally rich communication while maintaining minimal opportunity for communicative failure or breakdown. These include: (a) offered and requested blessings, (b) jokes, and (c) narratives. Implications: These 3 communicative strategies offer examples of lexically and grammatically complex ways to communi- cate with older adults who have little other opportunity for similarly complex interaction and may reduce resistiveness to care, and linguistic isolation, which has been linked to cognitive decline.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalThe Gerontologist
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • End of life care
  • Qualitative analysis: Discourse analysis
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Social isolation


  • Anthropology
  • Other Anthropology
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences

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