Great post on Feministing about a recent study showing that talking to the elderly like children -- "How are we today?" "Now that's a good girl, take your medicine" -- makes them aggressive, depressed, and encourages a downward spiral into exactly the kind of behavior and loss of self-confidence that one is, theoretically, trying to avoid.
Of course, nominally, these diminutives and other cutsies used when talking to the elderly are meant to be shorthand for "I care about you," but especially when used in nursing homes, is anyone really fooled? I mean, didn't this kind of tossed-in verbal garbage long ago become clearly superficial and pro forma, like "Hello, thank you for calling the BIG FUCK Corporation; we here at BIG FUCK appreciate your call." Doesn't the pretend sincerity bug EVERYONE? So why should the older folks (who've had to deal with pretend sincerity for longer than the rest of us) be any different?
The study looked at the effects this condescending language had on the mentality of the idosos it was directed at ("idoso" is Portuguese for elderly/aging, after the Portuguese word for age, "idade"). It's hardly surprising that it might be used in senior centers -- but what ISN'T surprising is that it's not very helpful/good. These days, it seems like it'd be more surprising if a senior "assisted living" center WAS doing something good. (While there are no doubt numerous good ones, the industry as a whole seems like a SCARY den of neglect and iniquity.)
Perhaps I'm crazy, but I've thought for a while that the US model of not taking responsibility for personally caring for your parents/the previous generation is a bit twisted -- it's still traditional in a lot of countries, 3-generation-homes and all. And while it's beyond many's means, it seems like more often it's just viewed as an inconvenience or avoidable hassle. While some of the elderly don't have people that could look after them, or'd rather be cared for by someone who they didn't themselves raise, out of a sense of personal dignity, there seem to me to be too many of the younger who just aren't willing to deal with it. I don't have any numbers on this, it's just my impression, and not having had to take care of an ailing parent, it's easy for me to say -- but still, it seems like the least one owes a parent, doesn't it?
Hmm... I'm underinformed on this issue, so this is me talking out of my ass for the time being, but how 'bout this: let's agree to address our seniors like equals, and if we're going to use affectionate monikers, how 'bout we stick to actual, sincere ones, or avoid it all together, ok sweetiekins? Thanks honey, you've been a real gem.