Stigma: Who are YOU calling Demented?
A few weeks ago I asked my Facebook community if they would benefit from a blog post about the properly terminology for someone over the age of 65. Needless to say, it was highly requested. I decided to create a follow-up to Ageism: Who’re you calling Elderly? After a caregiver was rather embarrassed to admit she had referred to her husband as “My demented husband.” You would be surprised how often I hear this. Here are a few stories:
I was at a party when someone asked me what I did for a living. As I explained it, they said, “Oh, so are all of your clients ‘demented?’”
Another time, I was speaking to someone who was my superior at the time and a self-proclaimed Dementia expert, as they stated that they have worked with “Demented people for some time.”
The third time was another aging professional who pointed to the door to a dementia neighborhood and stated, “That is where the demented residents live.”
I am disappointed to admit that I only spoke up one of these times to explain how offensive I found that term. The one time I explained it, they were happy I shared and immediately changed their vocabulary.
Saying “demented” makes me cringe. I could end the blog post here, but I know some people would like to understand why I cringe to hear this. So, I did my research and decided to look up the word “demented” in the dictionary.
According to Merriam-Webster, Dementia is defined as:
2: suffering from or exhibiting cognitive dementia
I would like to first acknowledge the second definition. I see it but that doesn’t mean I like it! I would like to call attention to the first definition. Someone who is demented is “mad” or “insane.” That first definition is what gives a negative connotation to someone with Dementia. Many organizations work hard to reduce the stigma associated with Dementia to raise awareness, encourage people to be diagnosed and treated sooner. A person with dementia is not insane.
A person with Dementia is suffering from a disease that is killing their brain.
These are the first Google images for a search of the term “demented.”
I think most of us can agree that a person with dementia is not “demented” in the way it is generally imagined. While I was in college, as a Psychology major with a minor in human services, I learned about “People First Language.” Interestingly enough, “People first language” is rarely discussed for those with dementia. However, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC)
“People first language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People first language emphasizes the person first not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: “a person who …”, “a person with …” or, “person who has…”
You can find examples of “People first Language” here.
Here are my suggested rules of thumb:
- When possible, use the person’s name first.
- Remove the word “Demented” from your dementia vocabulary.
- Remember that a person with dementia is a unique person with his or her own personality and needs.
- Refer to the person first and their disease second.