What if the language surrounding people living with cognitive impairment were to change?
What if, for example, “hoarding” were to be called “collecting”?
What if “wandering” was known as “exploring”?
According to researcher Dr. Sherry Dupuis, making changes to the language surrounding dementia would have a widespread positive impact on people who are living with cognitive impairment.
(Caregivers) give me meaningless activities, like tip over all the pens and pencils on the table, and ask me to sort them.
Dupuis, an Alzheimer’s disease and dementia expert at the University of Waterloo, told a group of attendees at a recent convention and trade show that negative language surrounding people with dementia is noticed by those affected by cognitive impairment.
“Persons with dementia are very much aware of the implications of this approach on their lives,” Dupuis explained during her April 1 presentation, which was focused on enhancing care quality in the long-term care sector.
“The consequences of using negative language are profound and harmful in many ways.”
Words like disruptive, screamer, wanderer, non-compliant and aggressive cast a light on the disease and not the person affected by it, Dupuis added.
In short, Dupuis said that when these types of words are used to describe people living with dementia, their humanity is taken away.
The picture we’re left with is not of a person but of a body to be managed.
“Words, gestures and actions have meaning,” she said.
Through her research, Dupuis has heard first-hand from people living with dementia about the frustration they have surrounding language that negatively labels people. “As one person with dementia said, ‘(People) think I can’t do anything. Until they get used to me (and see) what I can still do, many try to take over.
” ‘(Caregivers) also give me meaningless activities, like tip over all the pens and pencils on the table, mix them up, and then ask me to sort them. That made me really angry.’ ”