September is Dementia Awareness month in Australia.
Dementia is a leading diagnosis among aged care residents. The diagnosis presents challenges for both the person living with dementia, and the family and caregivers tasked with caring for their loved ones. It is thought that there will be about 536,164 people with dementia by 2025 and about 1,100,890 by 2056.
Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in Australia over the age of 65 years, and the third leading cause of disability overall.
Dementia and the Individual
The language we use to describe both people living with dementia and the illness itself are as important as the treatment protocols for those persons. The goal of consistently changing the ways we think about dementia and describe it are important to promote dignity and awareness for those living with this diagnosis.
Dementia affects each person differently. Their own individual experience and cultural background can affect their day-to-day goals and prognosis.
Dementia Awareness in Language Use
The words we use can influence others’ mood, self-esteem, and perception of feelings of happiness, depression, or loneliness. Language is a powerful tool to build a foundation of respect and understanding for those living with dementia. Everyone may have different experiences with dementia, and it is perfectly acceptable to ask directly. We all strive to respect the dignity of each individual by respecting that person’s wishes regarding use or non-use of certain terms relating to dementia.
When speaking of dementia, it is preferable to speak of dementia as Dementia, Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, or symptoms of dementia rather than as a dementing illness, affliction, demented, or senile. We describe persons with dementia as someone living with dementia or with a diagnosis or dementia rather than a sufferer or victim. Sadly, dementia can affect those younger than 65, and the respectful way to describe this is younger onset dementia.
The impacts of dementia are disabling, challenging, life changing or stressful rather than hopeless, unbearable, impossible, tragic, devastating or painful. Dementia not only affects the person affected with dementia but also the family, loved ones, and caregivers. Thus, our language should work to empower and validate their own experiences rather than shame their particular situation.
As dementia progresses, we can describe these changes as changed behaviour, expressions of unmet needs, behavioural or psychological symptoms rather than concerning behaviour, challenging behaviour or difficult persons.
Promoting Dignity and Respect
Dementia is a condition that a person lives with rather than a disease or affliction.
Our language is a tool to show respect and empower dignity for all those involved in the stages and progressions of dementia. Let’s work together to empower our residents, caregivers, and medical providers to give dignity to life and respect for experience.