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Avoid baby talk in dementia care

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Nurses should refrain from using baby talk with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease as it leads to less cooperation over treatment and care, a US study suggests.

Care home staff sometimes adopt what is known as ‘elderspeak’ with such patients. This is similar to baby talk and is characterised by simplified grammar and vocabulary, and overly intimate endearments, said researchers from the University of Kansas school of nursing.

Over a 12-month period they filmed 20 nursing home residents, aged 69–97, who had Alzheimer’s disease and their interaction with staff while they were being bathed, dressed, and receiving general care. Most staff were healthcare assistants, 78%, but nurses were also involved in the study.

Subsequent analysis showed that residents were more likely to cooperate with care when normal adult communication was used but were most likely to try and resist – for example by grabbing objects, saying no, screaming or hitting out – when elderspeak was used.

‘This study suggests that there is an association between communication style and resident behaviours,’ said lead author Kristine Williams, nurse gerontologist and assistant professor of nursing.

‘This may significantly impact on nursing care and how nursing home staff should best be trained to communicate with residents with Alzheimer’s,’ she added.

The findings were presented last week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago.

An Australian study, announced at the same event, showed that a home-based exercise programme can help reduce falls among older patients with dementia.

In a 12-month trial, researchers compared 12 controls with 21 subjects, who were given a tailored exercise programme to follow with a carer, which focused on improving balance.

The results revealed a significant reduction in falls among the intervention group during the first half of the trial, the authors said, though there was no difference in the second half.

However, over the entire study period, the authors said the intervention group displayed better balance, improved confidence and maintained their independence to a greater extent than the control group.

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