Labeling is a Form of Stigma

Dear Dementia Diary,

As January has come to a close, let’s not close the conversation about dementia.  Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia must continue to be on our minds.  As anyone that is caring or living with dementia knows, the disease needs attention all year round.  Last month, I felt the need to speak about stigma and so did the Alzheimer Society of Canada.  Today, I feel the need to speak about labeling.  We are constantly labeling one another and somehow these labels stick.  This phenomenon has been occurring, well ever since I can remember.  School playgrounds, high school and present day.  We place opinions on each other and we don’t look back to see if those labels are really true or necessary.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was having a conversation with a group of young minds.  They were inquiring what I do and had questions about dementia, from this discussion other questions arose, ‘what is OCD, ADHD and Autism?’.  All interesting terms to define but it struck me that these were labels they were hearing in their group of peers, they are 8-12 years old.  I agree that a diagnosis is important, as mentioned in previous articles, that is where labels should stop and let people carry on with support and strategies. 

Over the years of teaching about dementia, I have heard some real hurtful labels – demented, crazy (you know when the finger gets swirled at the side of the head), forgetful, confused, aggressive, sexually inappropriate, too emotional, too physical, a feeder, a pincher, a hitter and the list continues on.  A close friend, whose mother has dementia, has been contacted by the Long Term Care Facility three times in the last two weeks regarding her mother’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour.  This label of ‘aggressive’ really bothers me and it should you as well.  The woman that I am speaking of is a kind gentle being, that has been an incredible wife, mother, grandmother and friend.  If she was aware of her ‘behaviour’, she would be horrified, it’s not her true character.  My belief and many others, is that she has an unmet need, whether it is physical or emotional, doesn’t matter, it needs to be met.

Dementia does not need labels, it needs detectives, to find out what might be uncomfortable for that person, look for the clues and piece the puzzle, find that comfort for them.  Let’s keep in mind that when we place labels on people, we are placing limitations on them as well.  Ask yourself and question others, if these labels are helpful or hurtful.

Talk soon.

Don’t wait. Get support.