Preparing an editorial gives the writer an opportunity to present personal ideas, beliefs, experiences, and sometimes, pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is the common use of three words which, in my opinion, should never be used by nurses, other health-care personnel, or the lay public.
The first of these words is senile. The word senile is an archaic, negative, prejudicial term which usually refers to general mental decline in the elderly. The word has been used in the past when describing some of the actions or behavior of older people, assuming that the action or behavior was because of normal mental decline. The same action or behavior by a younger person, however, wouid not have been labeled senility. Of course, there are specific medical diagnoses, such as various types of senile dementia, which can be used appropriately after determining the exact pathophysiology or psychopathology
But the word senile is not a professional term and should never be used to describe an older person. This word is rarely seen in the gerontological nursing literature today although, unfortunately, it is still seen in some of the general nursing literature and used by some nurses when observing and documenting patient behavior in the medical record.
The second word that should be eliminated when referring to the care of older adults is the word diaper. Older adults do not use diapers because of the connotation that thè word implies: the dependency, helplessness, and childishness of an infant. On occasion, my 92-year-old father needs the use of incontinent pants. Talking about putting a diaper on my father, or any other 92 year old, is demeaning to them. The use of the word diaper decreases the older person's sense of independence and feelings of adequacy and self-worth.
Most advertising for these kinds of products today refer to them as pants, pads, briefs, or undergarments. They are used widely in hospitals, nursing homes, and by some of the general ambulatory older population who are quite independent, alert, and active. All kinds of nurses who assist the elderly with problems of incontinence should recognize the importance of using the correct terminology or at least the term preferred by the patient, if appropriate.
The last word that should be deleted from common usage in health care is the word vegetable when referring to someone whose mental capacity has been severely damaged because of a head injury, stroke, or other devastating illness. I do not know who first used this term, but it is still commonly used by nurses, physicians, and the general public. A human being is of great worth and should never be called a vegetable, regardless of the state of his or her mind or body Often we do not know how much a severely injured or critically ill patient can hear in the environment. To hear oneself referred to as a vegetable would be devastating.
Those persons, either professional or lay who use one or more of these three words would never want these terms to be used when referring to them, I am sure. When I hear nurses use one of these three words, I recognize immediately that they have had very little educational preparation, if any in gerontological nursing. Professional nurses need to be good role models and teach nursing students, nursing staff, and others with whom they associate to delete these three words from their vocabulary when working with the elderly.