By Allison Bourke.

Have you ever thought about the language you use when describing a disease or illness?

The language we use can determine the way we see things. Much in the same way that positive thinking gives positive results, using certain words when describing dementia can influence the way we view or feel about dementia. Dementia sufferer is a term often used to describe someone with dementia. Let’s look at the word Suffer and what it implies – woe, misery, victim, that they are suffering. Calling someone with dementia “a sufferer” leads us to believe that what they are experiencing is terrible and that they couldn’t possibly live well with dementia.

Another negative term used for people with dementia is “wandering”. Wandering implies that there is no purpose to it but more often than not, the person with dementia is trying to do or tell us something. Maybe they are bored, hungry, or needing the toilet? People with dementia need stimulation, just like you and I.

Other words used with dementia such as demented, senile, devastating and epidemic are negative words that could influence the way someone thinks about dementia. Senile implies that only people who are old get dementia, but people as young as 30 have been diagnosed with younger onset dementia. The word epidemic can strike panic and fear in some people and paired with the word devastating can have overwhelming feelings of despair.

Over the years I have worked with many people who have had dementia and I’ve seen them living well, without suffering. What we say about a person can impact us positively or negatively. The next time you meet a person with dementia, say “living with dementia” rather than dementia sufferer. The next time you hear someone say that their loved one is wandering, correct them and say they are going for a walk. If you hear words like senile, epidemic and demented, let the person know that these are the wrong terms to use. It is up to all of us to try and make a difference in the lives of people living with dementia.