Language is a powerful tool. Words can make you feel like you’re a champion or they can tear you down and make you feel worthless and insignificant. Language has a powerful role in a person’s self esteem. People should be careful when they choose what words to call others, to describe them or explain them. This is especially the case when talking about Dementia.

Kate Swaffer, an advocate and activist for aged and dementia care, talks about this on her website, “while no individual in any identifiable group can be said to be the single voice of that group, it remains the right of that group as a community to have a voice to speak about how it is that the ‘rest of us’ speak about them – therein lies empowerment.”

The Stigma

Language is a part of the stigma towards people with Dementia. People, no matter their age, race or medical condition deserve respect and deserve to not to feel offended by negative and disempowering language.

Such language can make people feel ashamed of having the condition, when they should, rather, feel supported and cared for. And this doesn’t only affect those who have been living with Dementia, the stigma can also affect people’s willingness to seek diagnosis or to seek support once diagnosed. Language can push a stereotype which isn’t accurate, and simplify people to nothing more than their condition. This stigma should be stopped.

One should never feel bad about something that is beyond their control. People with Dementia have feelings and self-worth, and are still able to understand the negative language that people say around them. When talking about a person with Dementia, it’s important to empower and acknowledge their abilities, not just focus on their deficits.

Kate Swaffer, who herself has a form of Dementia implores the importance of removing the stigma, discrimination and isolation that those with Dementia may feel. By doing so it will help others see that people with Dementia are still capable of contributing positively.

Words That Shouldn’t be Used to Describe People with Dementia

There is certain language that should not be used when describing a person with Dementia. Alzheimer’s Australia had made a list of such which can include terms;

  • Sufferer
  • Victim
  • Demented person
  • Afflicted
  • Offenders, absconders or perpetrators
  • Patient (when used outside the medical context)
  • Subject
  • He/she’s fading away or disappearing
  • Empty shell
  • Not all there
  • Losing him/her or someone who has lost their mind
  • Inmates (referring to people with dementia in care facilities)
  • Slang expressions that are derogatory, for example, delightfully dotty, away with the fairies, got a kangaroo loose in the back paddock, a couple of cents short.
  • ‘They’ (talking about all people with dementia rather than the individual)

If you want to learn learn more about the importance of language and Dementia:

1. The Power of Language – Kate Swaffer
2. Alzheimer’s Australia Language Guidelines
3. The Power of Language – Journal of Dementia Care

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