Communication of healthcare professionals: Is there ageism?

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2018 Jan;27(1). doi: 10.1111/ecc.12780. Epub 2017 Sep 27.


Elderspeak is often used when talking to older individuals and is characterised by a slower and/or louder speech, a patronising tone, etc. A part of the reason of such communication can be found in the actual context of negative view of ageing. However, the link between view of ageing and elderspeak has never been objectively studied in oncology. Therefore, 40 healthcare professionals (physicians and medical students) record a podcast where they have to explain an endocrine therapy to two fictional patients (40- vs. 70-year old). Results show that when participants explained the treatment to the older patient, they used shorter utterances and made more repetitions. They also evoked fewer side effects such as sexual issues. Moreover, reduction in length of utterances and of word-per-minute rate was observed for older patient when participants have a positive view of ageing but for both patients when they have a negative view of ageing. In conclusion, physicians and medical students used elderspeak when they explained a treatment to older patients. Participants with a more negative view of ageing also unconsciously talked slower and made shorter utterances to a 40 -year-old patient.

Keywords: ageing; ageism; discourse analysis; stereotyping; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ageism*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*
  • Speech*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Students, Medical*
  • Young Adult