“Dirty Words” the Series: You Called a Resident What!?

This week we continue with the third and final installment of the controversial blog series, “Dirty Words.” Hopefully by now we’ve learned the more courteous terms for referring to elders and the locales they may call home. However, if you still refer to an aging neighbor as the “old frail guy” next door or continue to call Messiah Village an “old folk’s home,” there may not be any hope for you. Either way we march on. This week we will be tackling a mish mosh of “dirty words.”

Long ago in our humble beginnings in the late 1800s, the Messiah Rescue and Benevolent Home referred to its residents as inmates! Insert joke here. Thank goodness for change. Could you imagine if we still called residents that? Eventually inmates gave way to guests. That’s a little better, I guess. Nowadays patient is the overused generalization. Like the term facility from last week’s blog, patient is not highly offensive; it’s just not very accurate. The people who live at Messiah Village and Mount Joy Country Homes reside in their homes, therefore should be referred to as residents, whether that home happens to be a cottage, an apartment or a single room. Patient should be reserved for a hospital or medical setting.

Here are a few more terms we need to pay attention to:

Adult diapers – as they say “incontinency happens,” but using terms like brief or pad or even call it by the brand name i.e. “Depends” or “Attends” offers a person a little more dignity.

Alzheimer’s disease – pronounced [ahlts-hahy-merz] it is often overused to describe a broad spectrum of dementia. Rather the word dementia is the broad term and Alzheimer’s disease happens to one form. Go to the Alzheimer’s Association website to learn more about the differences.

Bibs (for those unable or that struggle to feed themselves at mealtime) – we are caring for loved ones, parents, former teachers, scientists, pastors and politicians. They are not babies; they don’t wear bibs. Consider using the term napkin or clothing protector.

Tray or tray line (referring to meals or meal service in nursing care) – this isn’t high school. Let’s try meal, mealtime, dinner, lunch, etc.

Other names to be aware of are unit and wing. These refer to the different areas or sections within nursing or personal care home settings. Other communities may still use these terms, but we do not. Unit and wing are a bit old school and conjure up a more institutional feel or vision. Residents socialize, stay active and journey around the campus; therefore we like our descriptor of neighborhood. It evokes a more pleasant and communal setting. While not the prototypical neighborhood, ours has residents (neighbors) living side by side in condensed sections of our campus (community) with distinctive characteristics and personalities. While some may read this and say it sounds like a spin on reality, I’d say you’re not entirely wrong. Undoubtedly being called a resident of a Continuing Care Retirement Community may not be as appealing as being a resident of your own home, or you may also find it a stretch calling the section of nursing your father lives in a neighborhood. However, it’s about perception, appreciating the hand that is dealt, and believing these concepts to be true. Therefore those who have made the move to a place like Messiah Village- when you, your loved ones and staff embrace these ideas; it begins the process of culture change. When you call it home or call it a neighborhood, it inspires people to make it and believe in it as such. Families tell us stories of their parents wanting to return “home” to Messiah Village while they’re off campus during the holidays or a long weekend. That says a lot.

Lastly, I have a suspicion that if you have read this blog series, I’m probably preaching to the choir. You’re likely not the type of people to use these politically incorrect or derogatory terms we’ve covered. If you have, maybe you simply weren’t aware that certain terms like facility or senior citizen are falling out of favor. I must admit, I falter at times. I use facility or refer to someone as old on occasion. We’re all human, and we have to help each other when we slip. Times change, values and views change, so together we must recognize these “dirty words”, embrace the contemporary terms and change the conversation about aging.

If you have an idea or story for our blog, please contact me at coach@messiahlifeways.org. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Messiah Lifeways blog (hint: look to your right).

Matthew J. Gallardo

Matthew J. Gallardo

Matt is the Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in counseling, advocating, and guiding older adults and caregivers through many of life’s tough decisions. His diverse background of working in hospital and rehabilitation settings, community services, and senior housing gives him the breadth and depth of knowledge to provide unique solutions, opportunities, and help individuals proactively plan for the future. He serves as the Lifeways Coach and as a writer, blogger, podcaster, and speaker for Messiah Lifeways, located in Mechanicsburg, PA.

Enhanced Living (Personal Care) at Messiah Village

Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab at Messiah Village