Alzheimer’s: patient or victim… or person?

January 31, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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As the author of a blog about Alzheimer’s disease, I’m obviously interested in finding a shorthand way to refer to people who have the disease. And this has stymied and frustrated me.

The term “Alzheimer’s patient” seems to put the focus of their life on their disease, not on them, and puts the focus of their hopes on their treatment, as if they spent all their time waiting for someone to inject life into them, instead of living their own lives the best they can. People with other handicaps would never stand for something like that. For people who are visually impaired or physically impaired, their disability does not define them. People with disabilities sometimes hang out with each other, but not because they don’t want to be in the wider society, but because people in the wider society often misunderstand them.

The term “Alzheimer’s victim”… well, it turns people into victims. As in, helpless victims. As in, lying on the dungeon floor waiting for their next visit from the inquisition. Victims can’t do anything about their situation, and again, their situation defines who they are. Same thing with “Alzheimer’s sufferers.” (Sometimes the caregivers suffer more than their loved ones with Alzheimer’s.) But people with other disabilities don’t want to be called victims. Not to mention deaf activists who, far from seeing themselves as victims, are proud of their unique languages and cultures. We all have weaknesses. The goal of good Alzheimer’s care, in my opinion, is to work around the weaknesses, providing prosthetics where necessary.

So, in search of a shorthand term for people with Alzheimer’s, I did a Google search of the Alzheimer’s Association website. They’ve been writing about Alzheimer’s longer than I have. How do they do it?

Here are the numbers – how many times different terms appear on the Alzheimer’s Association website:

  • 51 from for victim
  • 169 from for suffer
  • 567 results from for patient
  • And the apparent winner?

  • 1,830 from for person

So why don’t we just call people with Alzheimer’s “persons”? We could just call them “people with Alzheimer’s”. What a thought.

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