Dementia Centred

Wendy Perry's picture

By Wendy Perry

May 30th, 2016

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

It is a bit disingenuous for me to use this title because my post isn’t about gossip, but it is about the words we use when we talk to others about dementia and about people living with dementia.  But I am also using it to make a point. In the world of social media we (as business people) need to find ways of drawing others into our posts, our services, or our site.  One way to do this is with catchy or salacious titles or headlines.  I would argue that this is a dangerous and often harmful practice in the world of dementia support.

Not long ago I read an on-line conversation between dementia professionals about the importance of language.  One professional had used some old culture language in reference to behaviour, and when questioned about it responded that she felt it was okay because she was trying to engage people on the topic by drawing them in with the language she was using.  Here is the problem with that practice: most people never look beyond the headline, which means that the overall impact of an article with a salacious title is the reinforcement of images like “dementia sufferer” or “death sentence” without actually engaging people about dementia in a way that challenges their current perceptions and expectations.

When we change our language we make a commitment to do more than engage people about dementia - we engage people about dementia in a new way, a way that provides a more positive and hopeful view of living with dementia.  It is about proactively presenting ideas which illustrate that life with dementia can still be purposeful and rich in experience and meaning.  It is not without individual challenges, nor is it a condition most people would choose to experience, but until we learn to use language that supports the dignity and individuality of those who live with dementia, the level of stigma around having a diagnosis will not improve.  

Many of us do not possess the resources to change NHS or social care services, nor do we often have the opportunity to influence policy.  But every day we have the opportunity through our word choices to reduce the fear and the stigma around living with dementia.

For more about language and words used when talking about dementia read the guide from DEEP Dementia words matter: Guidelines on language about dementia and this guide from Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Language Guidelines