Communicating with older adults serves essential functions such as the expression of want and needs, exchanging information, and maintaining social connection. Occupational therapists take into consideration the effect that the choice of language has on clients. Occupational therapists strive to treat all clients with dignity and respect, and one way to do this is through language. Elderspeak is a type of communication that occupational therapists attempt to avoid because it's based on the incorrect assumption that older adults are less competent than younger adults. It inappropriately labels older adults living with visible changes, whether cognitive or physical, as less capable than adults without visible changes. Elderspeak is often indistinguishable from baby talk, and it features a slower rate of speech, elevated pitch and volume, exaggerated tone, greater repetitions and simple vocabulary or grammar.
Many older adults that are competent find elderspeak very demeaning. Older adults often respond to elderspeak with lowered self-esteem, affecting their emotional wellbeing and impacting depression or feelings of withdrawal from social interactions. Older adults may even adopt dependant behaviours that are consistent with their stereotypes that are being portrayed. Elderspeak may unknowingly reinforce dependency and contribute to the spiral of decline in physical, cognitive and emotional function. A strategy to resists elderspeak is to draw upon the Communication Enhancement Model. Using this model, healthcare providers are encouraged to approach older adults believing they can actively participate in the therapeutic relationship. Occupational therapists are encouraged to modify communication strategies and be aware of the effects of nonverbal communication.