Some Mindful Alternatives to Common Alzheimer's Speak.
Reviewing the New York Times articles from this past year on Alzheimer's, I tried hard to find some positive words, and encountered instead a language imbued with fear and coldness, and that dehumanized the persons living with the condition:
They are 'patients', 'sufferers', 'victims', or sometimes just plain 'cases'.
They are 'afflicted', 'demented', or 'suffering'.
They are being cared for by 'caregivers'.
They 'suffer' from a 'dreaded', 'terrifying', 'terrible', 'fatal', 'horrific', 'devastating', 'bad', 'debilitating' 'disease', called 'dementia'.
They are being 'robbed' of all that matters most.
They live in 'assisted living facilities'.
They are 'stages', beginning, middle and end, early or late onset.
They present 'behavior problems' -- they 'act out', they scream, they wander, they are 'combative'.
They need to be 'managed'.
They are a 'burden'.
They have an illness that needs to be 'attacked', and 'beaten'.
Having been around enough persons who live with dementia, I could see why. It is true, that left on their own, and not cared for properly, the ones whose thinking mind is slipping can present a scary picture.
More to the point though, is the fact that our collective response to the condition is what creates that picture. In our efforts to move forward and treat Alzheimer's as a medical emergency, we have abandoned the earlier view of dementia as a natural evolution of aging. While scientifically correct, this new approach has also caused us to lose the human aspect. The culture change philosophy of elder care that has been making waves throughout long-term dementia care communities in the U.S. and other countries represents a step in the right direction. Attention to the language being used to think and talk about Alzheimer's and dementia should be a part of that movement. As shown by the New York Times, we are still far away from that reality. One small drop at a time, here is a list* of new words to use if we want to be kind and mindful of the persons living with Alzheimer's:
Respecting the person.
May you too be an agent of change, and spread the good words about Alzheimer's and the persons living with it.