Using Positive, Person-First Language to Fight the Stigma of Dementia

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 4, 2022
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Millions of people across the US and Canada are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. There can be many challenges associated with the condition beyond its immediate and long-term health effects. For those living with dementia and those who love and care for them, there are still stigmas and outdated misperceptions associated with the condition and about those who live with it.


Through the work of advocates and allies alike, the societal understanding is changing but there is still work to do. One of the many tools we can use to combat stigma and misperceptions is through the language we use in speaking about and with people with dementia.

By learning which positive, person-first words and phrases to use and which ones to avoid, we can help effect change both in our communities and in the lives of those living with the condition. 

Vocabulary Alternatives

There are several terms and phrases still used today that reinforce misperceptions about what it means to live with dementia. Here are some examples of those instances to avoid and how to correct them in your own vocabulary

  • Instead of referring to someone as “demented”, “afflicted” or a “victim”, try leading with the individual first and say “person with dementia”  
  • Instead of referring to someone as a “patient”, refer to them as a “person in care”
  • Instead of saying that the person “being difficult” consider the changes that come with the progression of the condition and refer to those challenges as “changes in behavior”
  • In the course of caregiving, we may be unintentionally patronizing by saying we are “feeding” or “dressing” a person with dementia. Instead, simply refer to your work as “caring” or “providing assistance”
  • Instead of leading with the condition, lead with the person: a senior living with dementia or people with dementia

The key to overcoming the stigmas associated with this disease is to being mindful of how a person with dementia might feel about the language you use. Here are a few more positive ways to talk about dementia and the people living with the condition.

First, keep in mind the importance of seeing the senior as a person and not a disease. This will help you focus on their unique situation, instead of someone who has limitations on what they can and cannot do. The term person-first language simply means to put the individual in front of their condition. This extends to how we talk about the care required for those living with dementia as their bodies and minds change.

Second, try to learn more about the condition itself. Understanding how it changes and affects your loved one will help you to better understand what the senior is experiencing. This approach allows us to better understand that the changes in behavior that come with the condition are no intentional. For example, Alzheimer’s in particular creates a range of symptoms beyond memory loss that you may not be familiar with. Symptoms can include paranoia, confusion, and even agitation. These are caused by the physical damage the disease does to the brain and can worsen over time. Those living with the condition also experience a change in how their minds process abstract thoughts. This means that concepts that were once easier to grasp have become difficult to understand without a visual representation or example.

Sunrise’s Approach To Person-Centered Care

At Sunrise, we understand the toll that dementia can take on those living with the condition but also their families and loved ones. We are here to help make the changes that come with dementia as stress-free as possible by creating a Memory Care program that is specifically designed to honor and respect the individuals living with the condition. Through evidence-based Dementia Care Practice Recommendations and the use of Validation Method techniques, we are able to help residents live their best quality of life at every stage of the condition. We also work with families and loved ones too to help them understand dementia and how they can employ compassion and empathy in their interactions with their loved ones.

To learn more about our Memory Care program, please visit our website and we can connect you with a Sunrise Team Member to help you today.


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