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Words Affect How Dementia Is Viewed

As reported by McKnights Senior Living, a panel of experts examining the subject contends that choice of words used in the senior living industry can have significant impact on how dementia is viewed — both by those suffering from it and by their caretakers. The issue is seen as particularly acute with regard to what’s commonly known as memory care. The panel members called it a “tragedy” narrative that care providers in assisted living and memory care focus primarily on what an individual living with dementia can’t do rather than what they can do. Panel member Carrie Aalberts observed, “Our field is ever-changing, ever-growing. We’re learning new things about dementia every day, so why is our vocabulary not changing with it?” She went on to say that change needs to start with leaders modeling more positive, person-centered language, and with educating staff members and resident families about the effects of language. “If you’re always attaching negative things to a loved one,” she said, “they won’t feel positive about interacting with [you].” She said adopting negative stereotypes of those with dementia burdens family caregivers and gives them too little to work with. Other experts suggested re-examining the use of medical terminology with dementia sufferers and caregivers, emphasizing that while it’s important to understand the medical facts, always using that language can be confusing, intimidating, and may fail to consider someone’s personal experiences. “We don’t want [those with dementia] to be victims,” one panelist said. “We don’t want them to look as if their life is over.” The panel referred to the Alzheimer’s Association’s inclusive language guide as a good first step to making positive changes in use of words.

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