“You can’t say that!” –  Understanding and addressing the tricky issue of ‘benevolent ageism’ in aged care – and society at large.

Andrew Collins2, , Dr  Marlene Krasoivtsky1,2, Ms Keryn Curtis1,2

1EveryAGE Counts Campaign, Sydney, Australia, 2The Benevolent Society, Sydney, Australia


‘Ageism’ refers to prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment of an individual based solely upon their age. According to the WHO , “ageism is widespread and an insidious practice which has harmful effects on the health of older adults… Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice, and is not widely countered”.

In the aged care context, ageism is most readily associated with ‘malevolent’ expressions of neglect and abuse: physical, psychological, financial, sexual.

But ageism also has positive or ‘benevolent’ expressions that may seem well-intentioned but are equally harmful.  Demeaning language and expression often used in health and aged care settings presents a case in point.  The phenomenon described as ‘elderspeak’ is characterised by the treatment of older people more as children than as adults.  It includes the way communication is framed – like speaking for the person, describing certain behaviours (eg. expressions of love or sexual attraction, dancing, using social media) as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’; and using the pronouns ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’ in place of ‘you’ (“How are we going today?”).  It can involve the use of pet names like ‘sweetie’ and ‘darling’, as well as slow, loud speech and a sing-song voice.

Using engaging organisational theatre techniques, this interactive workshop will help participants to understand and identify benevolent forms of ageism. But importantly, it will empower participants to find new approaches to framing and delivering communication in care settings that ensure every client or resident’s dignity is respected and their human rights retained.


Andrew Collins is the Executive Director, Ageing Services for the Benevolent Society, which operates a range of services for older people including; Home Care Packages, Respite Services and other home supports.

Andrew is committed to providing services that allow people to live their best lives and has been working at this since he started as a Registered Nurse 24 years ago. Since then he has worked in leadership positions across the Government and NFP sectors including; the Department of Health and Ageing, the Office of the Registrar of Community Housing and Uniting Care NSW ACT. He holds a Bachelor of Nursing and Graduate Diploma in Public (Healthcare Management).

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