How to talk about dementia

How To Talk About Dementia

Words can inspire. They can leave a huge impact and create a lasting memory that will be either good or bad. We often forget how important words are and this can create obstacles in relationships while also creating difficulties where opportunities could have been. We forget how dangerous and beautiful words can be. Simple words can completely change a person’s life. Orchard at Brookhaven knows that words are important, especially in the aging population. Often the words that we use to describe people who are aging are unflattering, and even more so when talking about people living with dementia or when talking about dementia itself. In this article we’ll explore the importance of words in more detail.

How To Talk About Dementia

Words are powerful. Below are some examples of how we do and/or should talk about dementia:

  • The word dementia can be used to put a person in a box, this is not the whole of the person’s identity and is deeming and strips someone of their dignity
  • The language used to talk about younger people with dementia can strongly influence how others treat or view them, and how they feel about themselves.
  • Referring to people with dementia as ‘sufferers’ or as ‘victims’ implies that they are helpless.  This not only strips people of their dignity and self-esteem, it reinforces inaccurate stereotypes and heightens the fear and stigma surrounding dementia.
  • Young onset dementia is not necessarily the defining aspect of someone’s identity.  Life does not stop when dementia starts.
  • Using the correct terms avoids confusion.  There are over 100 forms of dementia, all coming with different challenges.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is just one of type of dementia, therefore, the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are not interchangeable.
  • Using the term early stage can cause confusion between dementia that is diagnosed before the age of 65 and the early stages of dementia.
  • ‘Young onset’ or ‘working-age’ dementia are preferable terms to ‘early onset’ dementia.

How Words Impact People Living With Dementia

The words used to talk or write about dementia can have a significant impact on how people living with dementia are viewed and treated in the community. The words used in speech and in writing can have huge influence over:

  • Mood
  • Self-esteem
  • Feelings of happiness
  • Feelings of depression
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of loneliness

A casual misuse of words or the use of words with negative connotations when talking about dementia in everyday conversations can have a profound impact on the person with dementia as well as on their family and friends. It can also influence how others think about dementia and increase the likelihood of a person with dementia experiencing stigma or discrimination. Appropriate language must be:

  • Accurate
  • Respectful
  • Inclusive
  • Empowering
  • Non-stigmatising

Recommendations For How To Talk About Dementia

The words that we choose to use are ones that describe our residents and future residents as vibrant and healthy. This is because we know that there is a lot of life to live when someone has dementia. Our staff take care to use language that:

  • Is appropriate
  • Is accurate
  • Is respectful
  • Is inclusive
  • Is empowering
  • Is non-judgemental

People living with dementia can:

  • Thrive and have a wonderful quality of life
  • Can be productive members of society
  • Can be fully engaged in their life
  • Can maintain relationships
  • Can experience joy
  • Be creative
  • Learn new activities
  • Teach others

If you have any questions or would like to schedule a tour of our community, please contact us.