FROM THE EDITOR'S PEN
/ In a Word: Curmudgeon / Editorial List
Two colleagues I truly admire have recently been
commenting in respective articles about something
near and dear to my own heart.
Lynn Friss Feinberg, senior strategic policy
adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute, and
Howard Gleckman, author and resident fellow at The
Urban Institute, have been writing about the
importance of language when talking or writing about
family caregiving. In part, their comments centered
on the absurdity of the term “Informal Caregiving.”
I can think of a slew of words which can be
appropriately modified by adding the word
“informal,” but as any caregiver can attest,
caregiving is not on that list.
In fact, what Howard and Lynn have done is to
awaken our good friend, the Caregiver Curmudgeon, of
whom little has been heard in the past few years.
One of his pet peeves turns out to be the careless
application of inappropriate language.
Some of the Caregiver Curmudgeon’s
Lest ye not suffer unto us the
words “suffer,” "suffering with," and (worst of
all) "victim" when talking about our loved ones.
For example, a person living with Alzheimer’s
disease also has many more facets to their
existence of importance to themselves and those
who love them. People do not need to be
dehumanized by being categorized, classified and
defined by their disease, in person or in print.
The fact that our loved ones are battling these
diseases or illnesses should not be their
defining characteristic when writing or talking
about them. (Feel free to replace the word
“Alzheimer's" in the above sentence with any
other disease, illness or disorder.) I am
actually astonished by how many experts use
these phrases in their press releases, books and
writings. I don't know about you, but I think we
can all do better.
Honor thy father and mother as they
would wish to be honored. I think we should
strike the phrase “parenting our parents” out of
the lexicon. Even if many of the tables have
turned and you are performing a lot of the
duties for your own parents analogous to
parenting a child, they have never stopped being
your parents. How about “partnering with our
parents” or, as in Howard Gleckman’s book
title, "Caring for Our Parents"? Even if they
cannot offer any support as we care for them,
and, in fact, if their mental state offers
specific challenges to the help we do give, I
think it is imperative that they at least feel
as if they are still in charge. Ask Dad’s
opinion about what show to watch; give Mom a
basket of mismatched socks to fold when you are
doing laundry. Only you know what technique
might work for your loved one.
Speaketh ye with love about those whom we love.
I love to read when the people for whom we care
are referred to as “loved ones” or even
“clients” as opposed to “care recipients” or
“patients.” One should only be referred to as a
patient by their own care professional (and even
then, I like the word “client” better).
They say in elementary school, “Sticks and stones
can break my bones, but words can never harm me.”
Perhaps, but they can stigmatize and negatively
define a relationship in a way that you didn’t mean
for it to be defined.
Ain’t nothing informal about that.