Thursday, November 27, 2014
Recently I have encountered several thoughtful articles about the language we use, and the approaches taken, when talking with older persons. This seems to be an especially appropriate topic for the holiday season, when families often come together, sometimes from great distances. Whether we are talking with clients or family members, some of the same dynamics may be in play, especially when the question is about planning for the future.
From the ABA Commission on Law and Aging's Bifocal publication, comes David Solie's "The Wrong Signals: Shutting Down the Planning Conversation Before It Starts." He encourages us to "consider the psychological landscape of older clients -- it is a world embedded with two dominant agendas posing significant resistance to change. Together, these psychological currents create a deep inertia to disrupting the status quo." He labels these barriers to change as:
- Ambivalence and the "Righting Reflex," and
- The Need for Control
He suggests approaches, including the use of open-ended questions, reflective listening, and making a conscious decision about what words to use. For example, he suggests that when we start to discussion options, we explain more clearly that advance planning helps to "preserve choice" and avoids "loss of control."
Another potential problem may arise from "Elderspeak," a label social scientists use to refer to a tendency to use "patronizing" tones or words when speaking to anyone who is older. One recent article in McKnight's News made me chuckle, as it points to the well-meaning but potentially misguided use of words such as ""honey" by professionals when working with elders.
My father, a federal judge for more than 30 years, at age 89 may have forgotten many things -- but he does not take kindly to being called "honey" by strangers. He now has an entire assisted living campus, even a few of the other residents, calling him "Judge" or "Your Honor." I bet you might know a judge or two like that? When it comes to control, I'm not sure who is teaching whom about holding court.
Here's to more humor in all of our holidays -- and more opportunities for effective communication -- both within the family and beyond. Happy Thanksgiving!