My cramped quarters in the warehouse lay a stone’s toss away from the dayroom. Sometimes a dumpy middle-aged woman carried a Casio Mini-Keyboard into the dayroom and plopped her ass onto a folding chair in front of a bunch of bewildered geezers, who wondered why she’d switched off the television. She and her Thalidomide musical instrument always managed to instigate sing-alongs that included beloved ditties like “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” (complete with “Arf arf!” responses to the musical question). She would begin playing and warbling; pretty soon the geezers would join in, caterwauling and clapping slightly out of time with the rinky-dink drum machine.
Every Saturday afternoon for a couple of months I heard scattered “Charge” bugle calls coming from the dayroom, though the constantly-blaring idiot box wasn’t broadcasting reruns of F Troop. (To this day I have no idea of the source.) The calls reminded me of people with backbone.
At the warehouse, CNA’s routinely treated the adult residents like slow children. Especially ignorant CNA’s referred to them as ”babies”; I guarantee they weren’t using urban vernacular. Cardboard laughing clown heads—the type you might find thumbtacked to the corkboard in a first grade classroom—decorated the door to the activities office. The activities staff had adorned the bulletin boards across from the elevators, and the doors to resident’s rooms with similar juvenile crap. Of course patients afflicted by dementia or brain damage only understood simple language delivered with exaggerated gestures, but CNA’s baby-talked at all the residents regardless of their condition. Grand Poobah scholars call this elderspeak.
Joy Simpson, a member of the National Association of Science Writers, accurately describes the strategies used by most people when addressing an elder (or, for that matter, anybody who uses a mobility device):
• Using a singsong voice, changing pitch and tone, exaggerating words.
• Simplifying the length and complexity of sentences.
• Speaking more slowly.
• Using limited vocabulary.
• Repeating or paraphrasing what has just been said.
• Using terms like “honey” or “dear.”
• Using statements that sound like questions.
She forgot one of my favorites: Using plural pronouns when addressing an individual e.g. “How are we today?” “Did we take our medicine?”
Elderspeak assumes incompetence and erodes self-esteem. But a gaggle of researchers—who’ve likely never lived in a warehouse—assert that elderspeak no longer outrages residents because they’ve learned to accommodate its habitual use. The milquetoast-pawn behavior I observed in other residents confirmed this.
Emotionally retarded nanowits, who realize in the back of their tiny minds that they’ll always be dump trucks of failure, feel the need to bully those weaker than them into submission. Typically, many nursing homes employ such subhumans. But mentally competent residents have the personal responsibility to stand up for themselves and not tolerate the patronizing bullshit dished out by soap-dodging mouth-breathing lowlifes. (Don’t allow shiny chirpy do-gooders to fool you—they’re just as bad.) It appeared that nobody living in the warehouse got the memo.