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He’s BAACK: The Caregiver Curmudgeon

When we created Today’s Caregiver magazine 22 years ago, there were very few voices in the wilderness talking about the issue of family caregiving. There are now (thankfully) a significant amount of people talking and writing about caregivers and caregiving, as well as representing family caregivers on their television programs. So now, I think, is the time to establish some mutually agreed upon language commandments about caregiving. Language is so very important because the words we use help establish the feelings we have as a society about subjects of great importance. And what can be more important than caregiving?

Some of the Caregiver Curmudgeon’s Communication Commandments:

  • 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 doing 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”? 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.)

    P.S. While we are on the topic of language, a friend of mine just said that she feared that her dad had “jumped onboard the Alzheimer’s Train.” 

    See, sometimes how you say things does indeed matter.


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