Today I listened to 12 people with dementia talk about how words hurt
Today I listened to 12 people with a dementia diagnosis talk about how words stigmatise them and limit their whole person humanity. Yes, they do say they suffer with their illness but no, they are most definitely not “sufferers”. Sufferers is a word that disempowers them and does not reflect the truth of their lived experienced, which is, they are whole people who can and do live well, despite their dementia. They would live even better lives if society realised that they have a disability and need “cognitive ramps” to compensate for their condition.
The problem is our attitude and use of one-word labels
A large part of the problem is that one word – dementia – is used as an umbrella word to describe over 150 dementia conditions and that one word dementia is highly stigmatised with ‘pre-conceived ideas’ about what it means to have a dementia diagnosis. More often than not, those ideas are wrong. Not only is one word used to describe over 150 medical conditions but it doesn’t allow for the fact that the experience of living with dementia changes over time. Society sees people living with late-stage and end-stage dementia and then they think of dementia in that context alone. This denies the experience of the people living with early and mid-stage dementia.
Sue Pieters-Hawke said at a conference – “the problem is we see people with dementia as ‘less than’. Less than us, less than human”. She argued that if we truly saw people with dementia as valid, whole, equal humans with a disability we would not use the negative, demeaning words we use to describe people with a dementia. It was a confronting point of view that amplified the silence of the professional audience listening, who unfortunately, still in their presentations used many inappropriate negative labels to describe people with a dementia diagnosis. Sue’s point of view was the unspoken truthful elephant in the room. It had to be said. It was a call for the industry and society to be more intelligent, considered, thoughtful, kind and truthful in our use of words.
We under-estimate people with a dementia
In my experience, people with a dementia are more often than not under-estimated by society, even by their loving family, and this is the point Kate Swaffer and Dementia Alliance International, the peak body representing people diagnosed with dementia, are making…to sum up their life as “sufferers” is a negative and stigmatising label. Their true life experience is much richer …rich with functional ability, intelligence, love, humour and joy. At least that has been my experience of what I have witnessed of the lives of Daughterly Care clients.
Kate Swaffer, Christine Bryden and Dementia Alliance International are right….we do need our language to be more respectful, positive and supportive of a dementia disability. We also need to spend less time focused on losses and think how we can support the person’s continuing abilities and their emerging needs. People with a dementia need respect and helpful support. They need “cognitive ramps” for their dementia disability.
Another first for Daughterly Care
To better support and enable our clients, Daughterly Care has had 6 staff accredited to become Montessori Trainers in order to train our 200+ Community Caregivers on the Montessori way of supporting and enabling clients with a dementia diagnosis. Daughterly Care is the first community home care provider to do this in Australia, some Nursing Homes have made this investment, but we are the first community care organisation to adopt the Montessori Method.
It’s a massive investment in terms of cost and time, however the evidence based research supports the effort and we are always looking to offer best practice care and support.
The Montessori Framework is all about supporting Elders positively and focusing on enabling, re-enabling and support that leads to greater self-esteem and well-being. It’s perfectly aligned to Daughterly Care’s Joyful Living Approach™ to support and care. You can read about the 12 principles of the Montessori Method and Dr Maria Montessori here.