Health > Use Positive Person-First Language to Fight This Stigma of Dementia
13th Jul 2022
How to Combat The Stigma of Dementia

Use Positive Person-First Language to Fight This Stigma of Dementia

Millions of people throughout the world have Alzheimer’s or other dementia types. Many difficulties related to the condition go beyond its immediate and lasting negative health consequences. For people living with dementia and those who care for and love their loved ones, there are many stereotypes and old-fashioned misconceptions about the condition and those living with it.


Defining Stigma

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) defines stigma as negative beliefs (prejudice) as well as negative behaviours (discrimination). A few years ago, a report found that more than 50% of people with a risk of mental illness that is clinical don’t seek treatment. In the U.S., 25% of those not seeking treatment say it’s because they do not want other people to be aware of their mental condition. This is a form of stigma and it can result in people feeling embarrassed to talk about their problems or seek dementia treatment, which can serve as a barrier to healing.

There is something we can do to alter this situation. Language is powerful, and the words you choose can debunk stereotypes and myths or reinforce them. The stigmatisation of language – like “crazy” can perpetuate negative stereotypes that can cause people to be excluded from employment, housing, social interactions, and relationships. Furthermore, people can begin to believe in the negative comments they hear about others and this can hinder their journey to recovery.

Person-first language emphasises the individual, not their condition or dementia diagnosis. Research suggests that having a better understanding of the experience of those suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues can help reduce or eliminate discrimination and stigma.

The CDC offers helpful advice regarding communicating with persons with disabilities to communicate using person-first language. The National Institute of Health also offers useful information and samples of person-first-language for those suffering from problems with substance abuse. Obesity Canada goes one step further, providing advice regarding how best to utilise person-first language in discussions about people who are affected by obesity.

The person-first languages are an excellent place to begin and help individuals’ experiences without limiting them to a diagnosis or a condition. It also helps foster more understanding, dignity, and respect for all people, disregarding whether they’re suffering from mental health difficulties or not.

Get trained in Mental Health First Aid to master the art of having an informed conversation about mental health and how to communicate with a purpose that helps decrease stigma.


Vocabulary Alternatives

Various terms and phrases are in use today that perpetuate misperceptions regarding what it means to be a person with any type of dementia. Here are a few examples of these phrases to be aware of and how to fix the language you use.

  • Instead of calling someone “demented”, “afflicted”, or “afflicted”, or “victim”, Try leading by the person first, then mention “person who has dementia.”
  • Instead of calling someone “patient, rather, use the term “person taking care.”
  • Instead of referring to the person as “being difficult”, consider the changes that accompany the development of the illness and describe those issues by the term “changes of behaviour”.
  • As we provide care in the course of caregiving, we could be accidentally inflicting a sense of pity by saying that “feeding” or “feeding” or “dressing” someone with dementia. Instead, you should describe your job as “caring” and “providing assistance”.
  • Instead of leading the condition, lead the person who has dementia or someone who has dementia.

The most effective way to overcome the stigmas surrounding the disease is to be aware of how someone with dementia might think concerning the terms you speak. Here are some positive ways to talk about dementia and people with the disease.

The first step is to remember that it is important to view the senior as a person, not a condition. This helps you be aware of their particular circumstance, rather than being someone with limitations on what they can and can’t accomplish. The word “person-first” is simply a way of putting the person at the forefront of their situation. This applies to how we speak about the care needed for people who have dementia when their bodies and minds alter.

In the second step, it is important to know something about the condition itself. Knowing how it affects and impacts your loved one will allow you to understand better what the senior is going through. This will help us understand that the behavioural changes are caused by the condition and are not because the individual is deliberately trying to be difficult.

For instance, Alzheimer’s and dementia cause a wide range of symptoms beyond the loss of memory that might not be recognised. The symptoms can include anxiety, confusion, paranoia, and an increase in agitation. They are caused by the physical damage caused by the disease to the brain, and it can get worse over time. The people who suffer from this condition also notice a change in how their brains process abstract ideas. It means that previously simpler concepts are now difficult to grasp without visual representations or an illustration.



Positive words impact a person’s life. So, communicating using positive, person-first language can help to fight against the stigma of dementia



Does speaking two languages prevent dementia?

Several studies have explored the association between bilingualism and a lower rate of dementia. The results of these studies, however, have been contradictory. Some studies have shown that even if you have risk factors for dementia if you are bilingual, you might experience a delay in the onset of dementia symptoms.


How is language affected by dementia?

It is thought that individuals living with dementia experience changes in the temporal lobe of their brain, making it difficult for them to process language. Despite the early stages of the disease, caregivers may notice that the formal language is less developed, which all humans rely upon to speak correctly.


How can you reduce the stigma of dementia?

Learning is the first step toward positive change. The more you know about dementia, the more likely you will be to challenge false assumptions about the condition. You can contribute to the reduction of stigma against people living with dementia, their caregivers, and their families by sharing your knowledge.