I don’t often use this platform to point towards other blogs but today I’m making an exception. As we approach Dementia Awareness Week 2015, I think it’s helpful to think about the words we use to describe dementia and the people who live with it. Rather than paraphrase or even plagiarise the work of others, have a look at this. Beth Britton is one of the most powerful voices in the dementia world.
The way in which we think about dementia will govern the language we use. If I think of Mum as a “sufferer” or a burden, those are the words I will use when I talk about her. And if I use those words, they will embed that negativity. Of course, some people with dementia might regard themselves as sufferers, and they have every right to do so. But many, many don’t and it’s very important that, as a society, we don’t imprison them in a world of our creation.
One of the greatest lessons Mum taught me was the power of the spoken and written word. How I spoke and how I wrote were very important to her:
“Speak properly Duncan.”
My earliest homework, at primary school, was to write a weekly diary. One week, I’d been to see the Walsall Illuminations, a kind of small-scale Blackpool lights without the sea or the candy-floss, and I wrote the following:
“I went to see the illuminations with Daddy and Grandma. They were good.”
Mum, gently, took me to task. Were the lights impressive or did I really mean that my father and grandmother had behaved themselves? As you can tell, more than 40 years later, that lesson has stayed with me. Think about what you’re saying. Say and write what you mean. Don’t be vague.
As someone who has made his living through language, both written and spoken, I’m forever in her debt.
I’ve never spoken to her about the language of dementia and now, as we converse in a formal way so little, it’s too late. I know, though, that she would be a powerful advocate for using language in an empowering way, for helping people with dementia by the way in which we think and talk about them.