'The Carer Voice' or 'Baby Talk'
We have all heard it, and many of us have inadvertently slipped into using 'the carer voice’, you know which one I'm talking about, the sing-song voice with the rising intonation. No harm is intended, however, it can be patronising and demeaning. We usually save this tone for small children or our pets. In essence, we are infantilizing an adult, someone who has walked more years than us on this earth and who deserves dignity and respect, along with anyone else.
Some examples of this are; using baby talk, unsolicited endearments, such as 'dear’ and 'sweetie’, pitching your voice higher and using a sing-song tone, or repeating yourself before even checking if the person has understood you or not and speaking unnecessarily slow. Another inadvertent trait is opting for easier words when we assume, that the person no longer understands more complicated, sophisticated language.
Most people do not lose their vocabulary as they get older and nor do they suddenly stop understanding the general conversation. If a person living with dementia no longer remembers how to brush their teeth, for example, using repetitive baby talk in an increasingly sing-song tone is not likely to facilitate comprehension. A gentler, more dignified aid would be to demonstrate that action in a natural way and to brush your teeth with them, as the person would then be more likely to see and copy, or it may ignite the memory for that moment.
People living with mild to moderate dementia retain the ability to interpret tone and body language, in fact, it becomes even more important for them to make sense of the world around them. If a carer is using a sing-song tone or using an unsolicited endearment, they will realise they are being patronised and like anyone else, will not warm to the experience. This is rather likely to cause irritation and to contribute to aggressive and uncooperative behaviour. Before long the person will be labelled 'difficult’.
When hearing or cognition diminishes, the carer can use subtle techniques to facilitate understanding in a dignified way. Shorter sentences, speaking slightly more slowly and clearly, avoiding a high pitch and leaving spaces of silence for the hearer to cogitate before answering can all aid in the communication process.
It is important to remember and truly recognise that we are all sentient beings, and becoming older and or living with dementia does not wipe that out. Talking about the person's care in front of that person, as though the person does not understand, or is not there, is rude and demeaning. Most people retain some cognition and like to have some kind of say over their lives. Even if the person does not appear to understand or cannot contribute, we should never make the assumption that they do not. Always talk to the person, including the person, even if a family member will be the one to make the final decision.
Most importantly, remember that age is only a number and the person in front of you is an adult, someone who has led a long and multi-faceted life.