Dignity, well-being and identity: a qualitative study of older people’s interpretations of how healthcare workers speak to them
evidence and practice    

Dignity, well-being and identity: a qualitative study of older people’s interpretations of how healthcare workers speak to them

Peter Draper , Professor Emeritus of Nursing Education and Scholarship, Faculty of Health, University of Hull, England; Andrea Hilton, senior lecturer, department of paramedical, perioperative and advanced practice, University of Hull, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To understand how the way nurses speak to older people can negatively affect older people’s well-being

  • To learn about older people’s preferences for forms of address during healthcare encounters

  • To identify assumptions nurses might make when choosing how to address older people

Background The initial interaction between an older person and a nurse, and how the older person interprets this interaction, is important and sometimes overlooked. Evidence suggests that the way healthcare workers speak to older people can negatively affect older people’s well-being.

Aim To interview community-dwelling older people aged ≥65 years who had recently held a conversation with a healthcare worker and to understand the meanings older people attributed to these conversations.

Method Ten community-dwelling older people were recruited and interviewed. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis was informed by narrative methods.

Findings Participants freely and readily interpreted their conversations with healthcare workers in terms of the values and attitudes conveyed. Their preferences for forms of address ranged from formal to informal. They were sensitive to a range of contextual factors shaping the use of language. While they were generally tolerant of forms of address that did not match their personal preferences, some inferred disrespect from the unthinking use of first names and some resented assumptions being made based on age.

Conclusion Nurses are encouraged to be skilful and sensitive when speaking to older people. It is advisable to follow older people’s preferences regarding forms of address, as these are important markers of dignity and respect.

Nursing Older People. doi: 10.7748/nop.2020.e1261

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software

@PeterDraper3

Correspondence

p.r.draper@associate.hull.ac.uk

Conflict of interest

None declared

Draper P, Hilton A (2020) Dignity, well-being and identity: a qualitative study of older people’s interpretations of how healthcare workers speak to them. Nursing Older People. doi: 10.7748/nop.2020.e1261

This study was supported by a small grant from the British Society of Gerontology Averil Osborn Award

Published online: 16 September 2020

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