Self-Help Advice on How Words Sting

Written by Andrew R. Touhy

You know the saying, once it leaves your mouth, you can't take it back. Sometimes our words are more damaging than we know, especially to the older people in our lives.

If you thought it was bad to call your aging parents names, here's proof.

Ageist insults seriously affect the hearts and confidence of older people.


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While these findings may sound gloomy, they really serve as a wake up call to treat the older people in our lives with dignity and respect.


"We've separated out older people from the rest of the society and not just physically, but verbally. We discriminate against them based on their age, calling them 'old bags,' 'crabby,' 'old hags,' 'crocks,' 'sexless' and 'old geezers,'" says Dr. Ruth Tappen, a gerontological nurse researcher and Eminent Scholar at Florida Atlantic University.

The study, Journal of Gerontology, looked at how the use of these words affected the blood pressure and heart rate of 54 people 62 and older.

À la A Clockwork Orange, one half of the group saw words conveying negative descriptions ("senile" and "decrepit") flash across a screen, while the other half saw positive adjectives, such as "sage" and "insightful." Afterward, all participants were assigned stressful math and verbal tests, then monitored physically.

Results showed that the blood pressure of those who were insulted spiked under stress, unlike those who saw the positive words. These same participants also predicted poor results on the math test and got them.

"These are terrible words that perpetuate the notion that older people are too old to do anything well anymore," asserts Tappen. "We're creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, and unfortunately older people start to buy into that."

"Personally, I can't wait to see what the boomer generation does when they get older. I'm waiting for the day when they play hard rock or heavy metal in the nursing homes . . . and I hope that they do get their heavy metal!" 

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