Language, literacy, numeracy… and Dementia

birologyMost of us would agree that in the workforce, the most fundamental skills required in any organisation are language, literacy and numeracy (LLN). They enable us to process information, communicate effectively and contribute to productivity and performance, as well as socialisation, team building and our general ability to enjoy our job and work environment.

These skills also arm us with confidence and the ability to adapt to our changing environments.

Therefore, in the workforce, it is critical that Trainers and Assessors have the knowledge to recognise when an employee needs assistance with LLN and adjust their training delivery or assessment accordingly.

This surely applies to how health care staff deliver care to people with dementia, as our impairments should require that staff have knowledge in how to assist with our LLN impairments – rather than our dementia behaviours. Unfortunately, I have more often seen impairments being seen as ‘difficult behaviours’, which are then treated with restraint of some kind, rather than an impairment to the persona ability to communicate.

Lately, I’ve been researching the use of language, and developing a list of terms, words, phrases that have the ability to marginalise people with dementia. There are so many, and as I work on my article about it, I am finding more and more, many of hem very subtle, but there and marginalising people with dementia none the less. I suspect the more subtle they are, the more they marginalise us, as without them being very obvious, people without dementia simply don’t notice them.

Once we called people with intellectual disabilities retarded; if we did this now, we would not only be considered ‘politically incorrect’, we would be considered rude, ignorant, insensitive, and blatantly discriminatory and stigmatising the person. Hopefully, working on improving the language used about people with dementia will ultimately have a positive effect on our lives.

Let’s hope also that those people caring for people with dementia will consider the impairments we have in language, literacy and numeracy, and assist us with better strategies to manage them, rather than ‘treat’ us with drugs or other forms of restraint or insults. It might appear funny not knowing how to use a biro, but the frustration of not being able to do a simple task like that would be very annoying! I know, and although I still know how to use a biro, many other simple tasks have become difficult, or impossible.

2 thoughts on “Language, literacy, numeracy… and Dementia

  1. Kate – one big problem is that staff at nursing homes are run off their feet, and often have no time to be so diplomatic etc and no time to watch the residents (of the nursing home) in any special way …. I think this is going to be a big problem, espeically as the population ages and more people enter retirement homes .. and extra care requires extra staff.


    • Totally agree with you … the other problem, is many of the staff themselves also have difficulty with LLN for various reasons, including due to a limited knowledge of the English language


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