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Person Centered Language

PERSON-CENTRED LANGUAGE – December 2012

Introduction: The power of words

Language is our unique human gift and our most powerful means of communication.
Words can inform and comfort us, excite and thrill us, warm our hearts and inflame our desires. Words can also slap and punch us, rattle our nerves, discourage our initiative and destroy our self-confidence. We react physically and emotionally to what is said to us and about us. How language is used can affect us as powerfully as physical actions. This is the power of words.
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 negativity has contributed to the development and promotion of perceptions, interpretations and approaches to care that focus on weakness rather than strength, illness rather than wellness and victims rather than whole persons.
Statement of purpose

By consciously using language in a more sensitive manner, we can avoid reducing individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias to a series of labels, symptoms or medical terms. The Alzheimer Society has developed these language guidelines as a tool for anyone who lives with, supports or cares about a person living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. We hope that they will promote consistency in the use of respectful language throughout dementia support services.
Person-centred language helps tackle the fear and stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, in effect, making the disease one that people are more likely to acknowledge and discuss. The preferred terms are meant to maintain dignity and respect for all individuals.

How to use these guidelines

These guidelines have been developed for use by all Alzheimer Society staff and volunteers. To promote person-centred language, we encourage you to share these guidelines with organizational partners. Consider using these guidelines when writing and reviewing policies and procedures, information resources, website content, promotional materials and educational presentations. The terms are listed alphabetically under ‘Language commonly used’ for easy reference.
Language is a living thing, as are these guidelines. The Alzheimer Society invites feedback on the usefulness of the current guidelines and suggestions of terms that might be included in future versions. Please email us at language@alzheimer.ca with your input. The purpose of language is to communicate. To be truly person-centred, language should be chosen that will meet that goal and be fulfilling for everyone involved in the conversation.

Click here to view our Person Centered Language document.