Thursday, 27 November 2008

Using titles, or not

I've read one or two reports which mention that guidelines are to be put in place next year about how nurses address the elderly. Apparently terms such as "love" and "dear" will be out, and the preferred mode of address will be Mrs --- or Mr ---.

Well, fair enough - to an extent. But my own experience suggests to me that it's less about the words or the terms of address, and more about the attitude of the person using them. For instance during a mercifully brief stay in hospital I was always referred to as Mr --- (obviously they used my surname rather than just dashes), but it was often said in a tone of voice which seemed to communicate something like I may be calling you Mr --- but I'm talking to you like you're a small child. And it grated.

On the other hand, I remember my paternal grandmother (ie not the one who's just turned 93) being in hospital just under 20 years ago - frail, tiny, disorientated, needing much care - and I remember one of the nurses taking her by the arm to lead her down the corridor. As they walked the nurse referred to her as "sweetheart." My grandmother at the time was maybe 88 or 89.

Now if you weren't there, this might sound exactly like the patronising, infantilising (is that spelt correctly? Is it a word?), insulting kind of thing that the guidelines are trying to do away with. But I clearly remember it being said with such clear tenderness and respect, that it stayed in my mind and seemed to help keep a sense of life and spirit about my grandma.

Well I can only speak from my own experience: but like I say, the attitude of the nurses in question, over and above the terms of address they might have used, seems to have been the crucial factor.


nmj said...

I think you are right, Trews (or should that be Mr Trews?), tone of voice is what is crucial here. You can say Mr/Mrs but still be patronising/bullying/insensitive...

But if old people have fed back they prefer to be Mr/Mrs who am i to argue?

trousers said...

Hi nmj, and thanks.

I suppose it would be all too ironic (though not necessarily surprising) if older people hadn't been consulted to form the basis of such guidelines - but yes it appears they have been.

I would hope though that they remain just that - guidelines - since one person's preferences for use of words to address them might well not be the same as someone else's.

zola a social thing said...

That's the way me duck.

bikerted said...

Society is changing all the time. When Ian was younger it was always the way to call older generations Mr/Mrs/Miss followed by their surname. Nowdays the respect for the elders is fading.
However, in this situation, as nmj said, the tone of the voice is crucial and for an elderly gentleman to be called 'love ', it might just help to make him feel a little better.

DJ Kirkby said...

I completly agree, it is the way things are said that count. As well as the actions that accompany the words and tone of voice.

trousers said...

Careful zola me dear, getting overly familiar there ;-)

Thanks bikerted, yes, and I also think one of the most sensible things is, if in any doubt, to ask people how they would prefer to be addressed.

Thanks to you too dj.

Reading the Signs said...

Right on, Mr. Trousers. I think the Good Book says something about Love being the without which nothing. I don't know if one can actually teach that, but it's what lies at the heart of real respect, empathy, consideration, whatever. But perhaps I ramble. It's advent.

trousers said...

Thank you signs, that's not a book I can say I follow, but it's hard to fault such things as you mention (not that I'm trying).

And advent so it is. I always associate December 1st with me (aged 5 or 6) walking to school excitedly because we were going to be making Christmas decorations or doing something of that ilk. It was very icy underfoot and of course I fell over, slipping on the pavement just as I got near the school. Can't remember if I was upset. Probably was.

Anyway, who's rambling now? :) (and now I'm feeling guilty for leaving such a brief reply for dj)/