Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Words DO Matter - Let's create a new caring language

Russ Hughes from SC made the following insightful comment:

In reading your post regarding efforts to unionize Atria, I was stricken by the impact of language on our culture of care and its implications for how we view what we do. My reference is to the use of the word "front-line" in referring to staff who provide direct care to elders. While innocuous in and of itself, it conjures up images of World War II (as depicted in movies) of forces squared off against one another with a clearly defined "front-line" that places us (the good guys) and them (the bad guys) on opposite sides of that line. When we in the nursing care programs use such a term, it implies that the good guys are the staff and the bad guys are the elders.

Of course there are numerous terms we use that to those outside the industry similarly connote an adversarial relationship between care givers and elders. Too often we hear such of those as "in the trenches," "non-compliant," or "uncooperative" (or numerous others) that suggest we are on opposite sides from those we serve.

As a major source of education, aQuire is in an excellent position to provide leadership in awareness and this culture change effort.
Thank you, Russ Hughes, Ph.D., N.H.A. SC Department of Mental Health

Russ goes on to say,

I would welcome opening the discussion to others including through your blog. Perspectives would be most interesting I would think. I have always wondered at the use of the word "facility." Outside of our "industry" facility tends to conjure up the image of a warehouse and "skilled nursing facility" suggests something very highly technical (skilled). How about "wards" and "units?" Those certainly do not connote something "homelike" but harkens back to the days of nursing homes as sterile mini-hospitals.

I'm with you, Russ. Let's take this opportunity to work together to craft a language of caring that moves us into the new millennium. I mentioned earlier my conviction that we have the ability to train staff to view care communities (NOT facilities) as true communities: homes of the people who live there, with services provided to them as they WANT and need them, not just as we see fit.

In our company we are indeed privileged to be training the next generation of senior care providers. I'm very excited about the ability to affect the language we use and to teach a new language that more accurately reflects the caregiving model we want - for our parents and ultimately for ourselves - into the future.

Please join the conversation. Whether you're a senior, a family member, a senior care professional or just a future consumer - let us know what you think. We have an opportunity to shape at least a part of the future of care together!


  1. Hi there

    Interesting discussion. There are a few words that particularly bother me -- including calling the field of long-term care an "industry," which is not at all what it feels like to me, and calling care recipients "patients," which reinforces that medical-model image of long-term care. I bet everyone who's been providing or receiving studying or otherwise interacting with long-term care for any length of time has his/her own list of Highly Annoying Words that need to be retired.

    The Pioneer Network started a conversation much like this one a while ago with an article in its newsletter.

    The story, which includes a long list of bad "old" words and new alternatives, is on their website now. It includes a link you can click on to submit your candidates for the list.

  2. Language certainly affects perception and I applaud you for wanting to change it. It has been couched in war terms indeed. I like to think of any employee I talk about in my consulting work as an ambassador for the company. How they act define the essence of the brand. If you provide a great experience, it reflects on the brand and word of mouth. Maybe they are "age ambassadors." As to facility versus nursing home etc. I am not sure what the best terminology would be. Certainly the people I encounter as an ombudsman and entertainer very much think of these places as home. Do we have to label it? I will continue to think about it. Anthony

  3. Interesting discussion.

    From the caregiver's side, (and from speaking at many caregiving support groups, conferences,etc.), I recently came aware of a "new" term--caregiver and care receiver. I thought about it, said it a few times, and tried to observe how I felt about those two terms.

    I cared for my mother for fifteen years after my dad passed away, and then the last three of those years, I cared for her full-time in my home. We had a relationship.
    We're family.

    It was hard enough to refer to myself as her "caregiver." I was her daughter. We don't say as parents that we are our children's paternal figures. We're parents. They're our children.

    I came to the conclusion that while, when needed, I could refer to myself as a caregiver, she was my loved one.

    Even though she's passed on, and even though they were my adoptive parents, we are and will always be family. I didn't give her simple care--a set of administered duties--baths, chauffeur, medical and financial manager--

    I gave her love.
    My time, thoughts, energies, and intentions.
    I do believe that what we call ourselves matter. We begin to identify with these terms and they should be chosen with care.

    Maybe I'll chime in about other buzz words later.

    ~Carol D. O'Dell
    author of MOTHERING MOTHER:
    A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,
    available on Amazon

  4. This came up as a priority at the recent Direct Care Alliance national convention of direct care worker associations. 18 states were represented and out goal is "to elp determine universal terms for DCW issues."