Dementia language can empower or stigmatise

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For day three of dementia awareness week we highlight language. The language we use in dementia care has the ability to empower people with dementia or increase stigmatisation. When using language either in care plans, verbally or in articles we can sometimes inadvertently label people with dementia and increase stigmatisation. Some examples of negative language and how we can change word choice to aid better understanding is below;

Wandering/wanderer 

In dementia care this is a label and highly stigmatising how often do you hear wanderer mentioned or written down? Sometimes it is even used as a label ‘Yvonne is a wanderer’. What is the person actually doing? A better way is simply to describe the action so use the word walking or walked, this immediately changes the connotations associated to the words. When labelling someone we lose the person and it is the person that matters, we learn so little about a person by using labels. Would you want someone to look at you and everything you have done in your life and say ‘Yvonne is a wanderer’ would that define who you are?   

Suffers/suffering 

People with dementia have said they do not like either of these two words used to describe the illness. You may often read ‘Yvonne a dementia sufferer’ or ‘Yvonne suffers from Dementia’ remember again the negative connotations around these words, and that people with dementia have they themselves said how upsetting they find these terms and avoid their use. 

Challenging Behaviour 

This term can be used frequently in dementia care but again does not give any real information. I cannot imagine anything worse than hearing someone say ‘Yvonne displays challenging behaviour’ or ‘Yvonne has dementia with challenging behaviour’ what does that mean? What am I doing that is challenging you? Think about it…………again it is another label.  If you overheard someone discussing you and saying ‘she/he can be challenging’ how would this make you feel? Does it sound like positive language? Instead of writing this down write what helps the person with dementia achieve their outcomes, concentrate on what strategies are in place to support the person with dementia rather than highlighting the negative.

Aggressive 

Like challenging behaviour this term can be used frequently but tells us nothing about the person. If someone writes in the care plan ‘Yvonne was aggressive today’ you learn nothing however if someone wrote ‘Yvonne was buttoning up her blouse and the button kept slipping through her fingers and she banged her hand on the table and shouted out’ this gives you an idea of how Yvonne had become frustrated and tells you so much more. You might also write ‘the lounge was busy with lots of noise and music Yvonne was looking around and the louder it got the more rapidly she looked around before shouting out and banging her hands on her chair’ this would tell you how rather than being aggressive Yvonne was maybe frightened due to the level of noise and again tells you much more. Never describe someone to another person using the term aggressive this is labelling and can lead to isolation of the person with dementia.

When thinking about dementia language be respectful, and remember the impact what you write or say may have for people with dementia.

This is a short piece on dementia language and there is a lot more written on dementia language the links below may be useful to read for more information or alternatively you can contact me on Yvonne.manson@balhousiecare.co.uk with any questions.