You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Care providers show respect by using a patient's name

By Dear Abby


"She Has a Name in Georgia" (Dec. 2) complained that the care staff at the assisted living community where her mother lives calls her "Granny," "Grandma" and "Mamma." She found it disrespectful, and I agree with her.

I am an R.N. with two advanced nursing degrees. Calling a resident "Granny," "Dear" or "Honey" is not loving or caring. It is degrading, humiliating and hurtful! It does not matter what the ethnicity of the attendant is; there are standards of conduct and patient's rights. I suggest "She Has a Name" ask the director of the facility for copies of the standards of care and patient's rights documents.

The family may want to install a "nanny cam" in the room if it will provide peace of mind. There are many fine communities where care of the residents is professionally and caringly provided. I hope they are able to find one for their mother. -- RETIRED R.N. AND RESIDENT ADVOCATE


Thank you for sharing your expertise on this subject. I didn't realize patient's rights were specified by the documents you mentioned or that how a resident is addressed is covered in them. Other health care professionals responded similarly, and I stand corrected. My newspaper readers comment:


During school and in clinical rotations, we were repeatedly instructed to call clients by their names, especially in situations where memory was impaired. Not only does it help to reorient the patient as to who they are and help them to maintain their identity, but it provides a clear separation as to who is family and who is the caregiver.

The director should not have diminished the importance of the family's feelings on this matter. I suggest they consider relocating their mother to a facility that is more conscientious about the care they are being paid to provide. -- CAREGIVER IN FLORIDA


The assisted living staff should not be calling her mother by those names. The legal term is "elder speak," or as it is commonly known -- baby talk. This infantilizes elders. It is detrimental to their care and contributes to "ageism," a process in which elders are perceived as less valuable than others.

The family was right to speak up and, regardless of cultural considerations, the staff and director should respect their wishes and refer to their mother by her appropriate name. -- SHOCKED R.N. IN CALGARY, CANADA


Failure to address a patient/resident by his or her proper name is a violation of regulations and could be cited during surveys. If the patient preferred a nickname, the care plan conference team (staff department heads, family and patient) needed to make a notation in the care plan to allow the nickname to be used.

Most of this is covered by the Patient's Bill of Rights and falls under the "right to be treated with respect and dignity." Using terms like "Sweetie" or "Granny" is a symptom of the staff's failure to respect the patient's individuality. They are objectifying and dehumanizing the person and becoming too complacent (or lazy) to learn his or her name. Besides, if an aide approached me and said, "Granny is complaining of pain," which "Granny" am I supposed to attend to? -- RESPECTFUL GERIATRIC NURSE


In Michigan, health care professionals are expected to call patients by name. In fact, my nephew was once called into his boss's office at the hospital and reprimanded when she overheard him say to a patient, "I'll show you the way to the X-ray unit, Grandma."

He was forgiven when he explained that the patient he was escorting was actually his real grandmother! -- JUST CALL ME BY NAME

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.