Let's be dementia-friendly in our words

It is heartening to read about the increasing interest in and awareness of people living with dementia in Singapore and the various initiatives to help them (Palliative care for dementia patients; April 11).

There is much that we can do to help those suffering from dementia, including promoting the use of language that is appropriate, inclusive and non-stigmatising.

A casual misuse of words can affect someone living with dementia as well as their families and friends.

The way others think can also be influenced by the use of our words.

Thus, a statement such as "the former vegetable seller started displaying strange behaviour" may lead readers to think that to have strange behaviour is to have dementia, when in fact, what the person was trying to communicate was something that she would normally have done in her younger days.

I find another statement - "So nurses at the hospice gave her bowls and plates to play with safely instead" - infantilising.

Having to live with dementia does not bring us back to our childhood, and when the person wanted to prepare dinner for her children, she was communicating her need to be kept busy and to fulfil her role as a mother.

This expression is not a "challenging behaviour"; it is an expression of unmet need.

Lastly, "dementia patients tend to wander around and get lost" is another stigmatising statement.

We need to seek to understand the reasons behind the behaviours - were they looking for someone to seek comfort from, looking for a place, or simply uncomfortable?

And while the term "dementia patients" is commonly used, it would be more sensitive to refer to them as "people living with dementia".

The disease is not the defining aspect of their lives.

It is important for us to use a language that is empowering, respectful and inclusive so that we can help people living with dementia to stay positively and meaningfully engaged, and retain feelings of self worth.

Pang Huey Ling (Ms)

Victoria, Australia