Can we please quit calling them Alzheimer's patients?

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

If there is one sector finely attuned to the need for comfort-food marketing, it's senior living.

That's not too surprising, considering the stakes involved. Many senior living operators are charging for eldercare services that arguably might be had for free in a skilled care facility.

That reality helps explain why most senior living operators are well-versed in the art of putting their best foot forward. These communities tend to be far more attractive than their skilled counterparts. They usually serve better food, offer more diverse activities and promote healthier lifestyles. Perhaps what they do best of all is sell peace of mind.

Yet there is one cringe-inducing practice that continues in this field with alarming regularity: referring to some of the residents who are cared for as “Alzheimer's patients.”

It's time to put the term to rest. Would you want to be defined by a moniker that labels you as somehow not right or incomplete? Or even worse, one that implies you are suffering?

As clinical experts will tell you, what we are really dealing with is a group of people with a range of symptoms associated with cognitive impairment. The symptoms are severe enough to undermine the performance of everyday activities. Given these realities, it would seem that less offensive-sounding monikers could be developed and used.

After all, plenty of people receive a cancer diagnosis, but they don't typically refer to themselves as cancer victims. Quite the contrary: many insist that cancer does not define them.

Look, I am not trying to sugarcoat the damage that various types of cognitive impairment can cause. But it's 2016, and we should be able to do better.

The latest version of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” includes a new, broader diagnostic category called major neurocognitive disorders, which incorporates the former diagnosis of dementia. I'm not sure that this moniker is the phrase that pays, but at least it moves the needle in the right direction.

As a way of moving the conversation along, I'd love to hear from you about things your organization is considering or doing here. With all due respect to Alzheimer's, the brand needs an overhaul.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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