Showing Compassion and Avoiding Ageism Through Language
As an organization that offers housing and skilled nursing services to older adults, at Christian Health we pride ourselves on providing consistently compassionate care. A major aspect of ensuring our residents and patients are comfortable lies in the way we interact with them. Choosing language that is accessible, respectful, and avoids ageism is crucial when communicating with and caring for older adults.
A lot has changed over the years, and education and research has indicated that some terms that were once common can be hurtful and even minimize the problems that older adults may face, such as causes of cognitive impairment like dementia. Using the proper terminology is important to us at Christian Health to ensure we are providing a positive atmosphere for our residents and all those in our care.
Older adults vs. seniors or elderly
While the terms “senior” and “elderly” may seem benign at first, they can often carry negative connotations. “Elderly” may conjure the image of frailty or remind the listener of physical and cognitive decline. The term “senior” can also feel limiting, as if older adults are defined by their stage in life. Using the phrase “older adults” in place of these terms is a more-inclusive, humanizing way of referring to the demographic instead of “seniors,” or even “senior citizens,” which sounds more like a number than an individual.
Community vs. facility
Creating a warm, welcoming environment is so important to us at Christian Health. The word “facility” conjures up the image of a cold, sterile environment – certainly not the type of atmosphere we strive to create for our residents. When you decide to make Christian Health your home, we want you to feel as if you are joining a community, not checking into a facility.
Residence vs. unit
Our community serves older adults who require varying levels of care, but we want each one to feel they are part of a vibrant community. The term “unit” can sound cold and isolating, unlike the much more-positive and homey “residence.”
Memory care vs. Alzheimer’s unit
Defining residents and those in our care by an impairment or cognitive condition can sound harsh or unfeeling. While these individuals may require memory care services, it is not preferable to refer to the section of the community where they are treated as an Alzheimer’s unit.
Keep it Positive
Remembering to always frame language in a positive light goes a long way when communicating in a community for older adults. We focus on using words that relate to the new experiences they have, such as “learn,” “grow,” and “explore;” words that relate to healthy living and wellness, such as “energy,” “improvement;” and words that recognize older adults’ value, such as “independent” and “freedom.” We avoid using terms that can be construed as negative, derogatory, or condescending, such as “forgetful,” “weak,” “declining,” “feeble,” or “senile.”
Using dignified language consistently shows the older adults in our community that they are respected. Their individual life experiences and knowledge may be unique from ours, but relating to them, understanding their perspectives, and refraining from offensive, ageist language when we dialogue with them is imperative for fostering a compassionate, caring community where they feel welcomed and at home.