Excel At Life--Dedicated to the Pursuit of Excellence in Life, Relationships, Sports and Career
CBT Jealousy Depression Relationships Conflict Self-efficacy Happiness Goal-setting Motivation Wellness Sport Psych

Popular Articles

Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Happiness is An Attitude

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

Popular Audios

Panic Assistance

Motivational Audios

Mindfulness Training

Rational Thinking

Relaxation for Children

Loving Kindness Meditation

Self-Esteem Exercise

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles

PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Aging and Lifespan Issues

June 13, 2015       

“I'm Old, Not Stupid!” Patronizing Speech and the Elderly
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

In recent years my husband, a senior citizen who uses a cane, complains how restaurant staff talk to him. At first I thought he was being overly sensitive and would tell him that's just how they talk. However, one particular time it was noticeable even to me. The server used a high pitched patronizing voice when she talked to him and when she turned to me (I'm much younger than him) she used a normal tone. Then she turned to him and changed voices again. I could barely restrain myself from bursting out in laughter because it was so comically obvious.

Apparently, this is a significant problem for older adults (as well as those with mental illness) especially when hospitalized or in a nursing home. My husband, being a very assertive person, will ask the wait staff to speak to him in a normal tone, but usually, they don't even recognize what they are doing. As a result, he comes across as a cantankerous old man.

Patronizing speech includes high pitched tone of voice, slower and/or louder speech, simplified vocabulary and grammar, repetition, overly personal, praise for minor accomplishments, terms of endearment, and third person reference (“What do WE want?”). It has been found to be demoralizing and leads to withdrawal, lowered self-esteem, and feeling loss of control. Such speech has not been shown to have an effective purpose.

A research study by Ryan and colleagues (2000) examined the dynamic of patronizing speech by nursing home staff and predictably found that residents rated patronizing nurses more negatively although they had also come to expect and tolerate such treatment. However, this research further examined residents responses to patronizing speech and found residents who were more assertive were viewed as less competent. However, when they used humor as a response they were rated more favorably and still appeared assertive.

These results show that how an older adult responds to patronizing speech can impact the overall quality of the interactions with the staff. It is unfortunate, however, that those who are most vulnerable must alter their approach rather than the staff refraining from being patronizing.

Ryan, E.B., Kennaley, D.E., Pratt, M.W. and Shumovich, M.A. (2000). Evaluations by Staff, Residents, and Community Seniors of Patronizing Speech in the Nursing Home: Impact of Passive, Assertive, or Humorous Responses. Psychology and Aging, 15, 272-285. DOI: 10.1037//0882-7974.15.2.272

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

Recent Articles

Analyzing Your Moods, Symptoms, and Events with Excel At Life's Mood Log

Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

“Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

When Your Loved One Refuses Help

Newest Audios

Building Blocks Emotion Training

Hot Springs Relaxation

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Panic Assistance While Driving

Autogenic Relaxation Training

Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

Mindfulness Training