Person-Centered Care and Language

by D.R., Placement Student

Person-centered language involves using language which puts the person (and their unique qualities) first instead of the disease or any conditions they may have. With that, person-centered care recognizes that everyone is different and has a different history. Person-centered care ensures that every individual has the right to dignity, respect, and fully participate in their environment.

When taking part in person-centered care, one needs to identify the individual’s wants, needs, values and situations. This approach to caring for an individual involves putting the person being cared for and their loved ones at the center and making them the experts in the care they want to receive.

After looking at those definitions of person-centered care and person-centered language, my understanding of these concepts entails putting the person you are caring for first and being aware of the language you use. In Long-Term Care Homes, there are many individuals with different conditions. What needs to be understood is that those conditions do not define the person and are only one aspect of their personality. Everybody has unique elements, and it is critical to get to know those aspects when caring for people. Getting to know the person(s) you care for can help those individuals feel more at home and ease in your presence.

The words we use can affect how one feels, thinks, and even acts. Therefore person-centered language is critical when working with Long-Term Care residents. As mentioned, nobody should be defined by their disease or their conditions, and we need to be careful of the words that can cause stigma.

Although I did not personally know anyone who lived in a Long-Term Care Home, I grew up with my grandparents and occasionally went to doctor’s appointments with them, along with my parents. At these appointments, person-centered care and language were not used. Doctors would focus on their conditions and diseases and did not get to know my grandparents outside of their health. Additionally, the doctors did not ask what would work for my grandparents but rather created plans for them. They would ask the occasional question about their family and their home life but would briefly move on.

I was young when I would tag along for my grandparents’ doctor’s appointments. Seeing how the doctors interacted with my grandparents, I thought it was normal and acceptable to center older adults’ diseases and conditions when caring for them. I must recognize that this did occur over ten years ago, and there has been improvement in how doctors interact with their elderly patients. But there is still a long way to go relating to integrating person-centered care and language.

So how can one take part in person-centered care and use person-centered language? The Ontario Centers for Learning, Research & Innovation in Long-Term Care (CLRI) outlines four ways you can do so:

See the person first. Remember that everyone has different values, cultures, routines, preferences and a unique life experience. Try to learn about the residents you are caring for by asking them (and their family) questions about themselves.

Commit to building trusting relationships. Include the resident and their care partner(s) in the conversations about their care. For example, before making a change to a resident’s care plan, involve them in the conversation.

Consider all forms of communication. Learn about resident health conditions to help you gain awareness about their forms of communication which may be verbal and non- verbal.

Advocate for person-centered language. Continue to think about PCL in your work and promote this work among your teammates and families involved in the care of those living in LTC.

As mentioned, person-centered care and language are being integrated into Long-Term Care Homes more and more every day. Doing so can make LTCH residents feel more at home and like themselves instead of feeling like their conditions or diseases define who they are.


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