Words Create Worlds

Members article

 By Jane Verity ©dementiacareinternational.com

Your words create worlds. This means that the language you choose will reinforce a particular way of thinking and behaving. By choosing to make a conscious shift from language that sustains an old administrative world of care, you can work towards a new empowering world of caring.

For instance, a staff member may say, ‘Here we allow our residents to get up when they want to and we let them help themselves to tea and coffee.’ At a glance, this statement appears to be a positive description of the facility. However, when you begin to analyse what these words represent, it is another story.

When anyone uses the words ‘allow’ or ‘let,’ it implies that they hold the position of an administrator over another person where they are the authority who can control and direct another person’s life.

Using the word ‘allow’ can be a subtle yet clear indication of the real underlying culture in a facility. Facilities may work hard on implementing culture change, yet it is not until the deeply inherited authoritarian culture of care is relinquished that a true shift in thinking can occur.

By replacing words like ‘allow’ with words such as enable and empower, you shift the focus from ‘us’ controlling ‘them’ to us respectfully enabling them to grow and blossom. The earlier sentence would now sound like, ‘Here we empower our residents to get up when they wish and help themselves to tea and coffee.’ This kind of language is a great example of the power of the language that is an integral part of the Spark of Life Approach.

Using other words such as ‘should’ ‘ought’ and ‘must’ also imply an authoritarian approach, which may result in the person with dementia becoming resentful, angry, and aggressive. Instead of saying, ‘Mary, you should know better than going into Henry’s room. You must go back to your own room!’ you could use a Spark of Life Philosophy and invite Mary to have a cup of tea in the dining room or her own room if she would prefer. Remember, we cannot change another person’s behaviour; we can only change our own approach to each situation.

As a fun exercise, discretely start counting how many times a day you hear either ‘allow’ or ‘let’ being used to describe your culture of care. You may be amazed at how often you will hear these words. This exercise will enable you to become aware of how ingrained this habitual language is in your facility. The next step would be to nurture, inspire and educate the rest of the team in the power of Spark of Life Language.

When you want to change one of your less constructive habits, the first step is to become consciously aware of what the actual habit is. Then, each time you automatically repeat this habit, acknowledge it and remind yourself of your new approach.

As a team, you could playfully decide on a way to remind each other when the old language ‘slips out.’ For instance you could say, ‘Oops, there is the ‘A’ word’ or the ‘L’ word.’ Then immediately remind yourself of the new replacement word or phrase.

This practical approach of changing habits works best when the whole team decides on a particular word to focus on for a certain amount of time. You could have a ‘Word of the Month’ and concentrate on one phrase at a time. Think of simple, specific reminders and rewards to ensure everyone gets behind the new approach of using Spark of Life Language.

Changing your words means changing your world. In this example, it can transform both your world and the world of every person in your care. By empowering the person with dementia and shifting your focus from being an administrator to a supportive partner, you are able to form an equal relationship where you enable the other person to fulfil their potential.

Further Reading:

Sparking Conversations (Membership Required)

Communicating with Compassion (Membership Required)