When anyone talks about another human being, if you feel that you have little in common or just plain and simple don’t like them, it is easy to slip into language that shows a level of disdain / disrespect. It can be easy for this to happen with people with dementia, they are no longer the thriving adults that they used to be, so the response can include patronising them, speak over them or at them, but not in a meaningful two way conversation.
This change in the way that humans are spoken to or about leads to their dehumanisation and altered treatment. Whilst it is a long way from calling names to what the Nazi’s did in the extermination camps, this journey would have started with language. Because it starts there, before real damage is done, this is the place to stop it.
Carers should take a moment to reflect on how they feel about the person with dementia that they care for. If they have dementia, by definition, they will have changed, they will not be like they were before they had dementia, because they will have developed some health problems. But that change doesn’t mean that they should be treated with disrespect. When someone is not there, are they referred to in a respectful and pleasant way? And when someone is there are they spoken to with dignity?
This attitude is relevant to all individuals, whether or not the person is like you doesn’t matter, they are still a person. They are not “thingy with dementia”, they are not “mad”, they are not “useless”……. They remain, as they have always been, a human being. They may be a person with dementia, they might be rude or aggressive at times, we all have our days when we are at our worst. I would not want to be judged on the standard of my behaviour on my worst day and treated all the time as though today is my worst day. It is far fairer to recognise that we all have bad days, but they come to an end, as do the good ones, where we get everything right. There are some days that I am a brilliant lawyer, lovely friend, great daughter, wonderful mother….. And days that I fail at those things too.
It is always important to remember that othering and dehumanisation always starts with language. If someone has done something, then hold them to account and if they are a person with dementia, the level that they are held accountable might be different from an able person. So then the issue is looking at any environmental causes to the situation, what can be done around them or for them to make things better / easier.
During World War II, people weren’t sent to the gas chambers, scum were. They weren’t mothers, friends, family, soulmates, they were animals. There is a big gap between the name calling and the level of dehumanisation that took place, but language was where it started.
There are many opportunities today to see people as “other”, even if there are no gas chambers being built, it doesn’t mean that these people will get fair and appropriate treatment. There are many political / ethnic / religious / gender / identity …… disagreements, discussion and disagreement are fine, they are part of functioning society to have debate about a course of action. But disagreement over a subject should not affect how people are treated.
People with dementia can be othered, they can be seen as not like “us”. But we are all at risk of it, even if we do not develop dementia in our lifetime, we still might until the day we die. People with dementia are not other, they are us. They just happen to be us with some brain damage. But they are still us and deserve to be treated like the part of the community that they are, with dignity and respect. As we all do.