Everyone can tell when another adult is talking to a very small child or a baby, even if they do not see the child or have previous knowledge that a young child is present. This is true because we are all able to recognize that most adults have a different way of speaking to young children than to other adults.
Most adults would be offended if someone talked to them in the same way they speak to a young child. However, there is a group of adults who are often spoken to in a similar manner. It can be harmful to them, as the Daily Mail reports in "Don't call me sweetie! Why we should never use 'elderspeak' to talk down to dementia patients."
Elderly people with dementia are often talked to in a form of baby talk, that researchers have dubbed "elderspeak." It is common for dementia patients to be called names, such as "sweetie" and "dear."
While the speaker does not mean any harm, it can be harmful to the patients.
Talking to dementia patients in that way comes across as patronizing and may increase their feelings of isolation. It can worsen their problems.
This is something caregivers and elder law advocates should be aware of. Obviously, there can be no legislative ban on elderspeak, but it is important to know that it can cause problems for the elderly, so we can mindfully refrain from using it.
Reference: Daily Mail (March 24, 2017) "Don't call me sweetie! Why we should never use 'elderspeak' to talk down to dementia patients."