It seems a little strange to hear “Dementia Friendly Community” after working on this month’s VOICES with Dementia column featuring Helga Rohra. She asks (paraphrased), “What if we said, ‘Cancer Friendly Communities’?” Munich-based Ms. Rohra delivered the Keynote Address on the second day of the Alzheimer’s Disease International World Conference in Budapest last month. [You may view her speech by clicking on the link at the end of this article.]
Why do we have to call attention to a community being “friendly?”
It makes sense when we consider the English language is primarily a bipolar language. We speak and write in terms of yesses and no’s or blacks and whites. We have few words that qualitatively describe the in-betweens of two extremes.
When we hear or read a phrase including the word “friendly,” our language compels us to inquire about the opposite, or UNfriendly” communities.
Lest you feel that I’m making a big deal out of a small issue, consider that the words we choose to use either perpetuate or destroy (there’s that bipolar language, again) the stigma of dementia.
Shouldn’t all dementia communities be concerned about the health and emotional welfare of their residents?
It’s like having a sign posted on a Walmart or Costco that reads: Cancer Survivor Friendly Shopping.
Targeting a group of people in this context stigmatizes.
In fact, it’s downright unnerving.
When I see this – and English is my second language – I wonder if there was a problem. Were people with dementia abused and neglected? Did they die as a result of unfriendly treatment?
During the past half-decade, policy leaders, community developers, caregivers, and even organizations serving people with dementia have been taking major steps forward. They’re inviting feedback from the very people they serve.
Hear the VOICES with Dementia
If we actively seek representation on our committees and even boards by people with dementia and then really listen, we’ll insure initiatives better represent their needs.
As recent as 20 years ago, few were willing to speak. Today, people with dementia participate in forums, group meetings, write blogs, and even books. Some participate in webinars, on panels and even give speeches. By hearing about their experiences, needs, and concerns, we gain awareness. Their voices also help reduce the stigma.
The graphic pictured here, courtesy of Alzheimer’s Australia, emphasizes the need to include people with dementia. By doing so, we value the varying levels of contributions people make while living with dementia. Instead of casting them aside, we help them satisfy the universal human need we all share – to feel our lives have a purpose. [The link to enlarge the image is at the end of this article.]
Instead of using words that may feel right for us – what can be wrong about the word friendly – let’s consider the context and different people’s perspectives.
Instead of announcing that we’re being “friendly”, we should just be “friendly.” When this is a priority at the highest levels, it will filter down to the front lines of care. Our actions will speak louder than our words.
For additional Information, please click on the following links.
Click on the cover image at the top to download the 16-page PDF document on Dementia Friendly Principles.