Language is a powerful tool for creating awareness, fighting stigma
September is World Alzheimer’s Month and as part of its #RememberDementia campaign, the Alzheimer Society of B.C. wants to call attention to the power of language – both to reinforce and to fight stigma.
Language can perpetuate stigma and stereotypes. Language used to describe Alzheimer's disease and other dementias has historically been largely negative, focusing on the losses experienced by the person living with dementia. While these losses are real, this negative framing has contributed to perceptions and approaches to care that focus on weakness rather than strength, illness rather than wellness and victims rather than whole persons. So, for example, the Society prefers the term “person with dementia” to a “dementia sufferer” or someone “afflicted” with the disease.
“We advocate for a person-centred approach to the language of dementia, and the disease in general,” says Maria Howard, Alzheimer Society of B.C. CEO. “There is so much work to be done to raise awareness and encourage compassion about the disease. We’ve all heard someone make an ‘Alzheimer’s joke’ about being forgetful. This perpetuates the stigma felt by people with dementia and their families. We don’t make the same kind of jokes about cancer or another serious disease.”
- Read more about person-centred language here.
- Read the Q&A with Cathie Borrie here.
- You can also read a Q&A with award-winning poet, Jane Munro, whose book of poems titled Blue Sonoma recently won the Griffin Poetry Prize.