The Power of Words by Sandra Cherry, LMT

Today’s story, courtesy of Sandra Cherry, LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), is a humorous reminder to those of us in long term care to be mindful of jargon and the words we choose when speaking with those new to the nursing home.
Today I visited my dad at the nursing home and, as I prepared to leave, I came in contact with a fairly new resident who was somewhat agitated.
Me: Ms. Williams, why are you so upset?
Ms. W: I am so sick of these people in here. They want me to sit in this wheelchair and I keep telling them no. I don’t know how to work that chair and no one has even tried to help me with it. That old aide over there told me she wasn’t going to be helping me up and down that hallway anymore. Well, I’ll just sit here in this chair!
Me: Ms. Williams, they’re supposed to send someone to help you learn how to operate the chair. Are you sure no one has come to help you?
Ms. W: The only person that’s been coming is some boy saying he want to take me to occupational therapy. He comes every day. I look at the clock when he comes to my room. Every day he comes between 10 and 10:30 and every day I tell him no. I don’t know who he is, and why I got to go for some occupational therapy? I ain’t looking for no job. What, they expect me to be doing some work, and I’m here in a nursing home. They must think I’m crazy!
Me: (Trying to contain my laughter) Okay, I’ll ask them to stop sending the occupational therapist to you and send the wheelchair guy down instead.
I explained the confusion to the nurse, who immediately went to Ms. Williams and confirmed that the wheelchair guy would be there on Tuesday to help her with the chair. She appeared quite relieved.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Words by Sandra Cherry, LMT”

  1. Dr. El,
    My first reaction is to laugh because it is such a funny scenario, but having witnessed similar occurrences (simple misunderstandings) and the anxiety it causes for the resident, we do need to be careful about the words we choose and how we say them.

  2. Sue, I can't tell you how many times I've discussed with residents and families (and sometimes staff) the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists. The medical jargon is similarly confusing, especially when abbreviations are used. The terms are so familiar to those of us in the field, using them daily, we forget how foreign and sometimes frightening they are to people hearing them for the first time.

    I find it helps to speak simply and to check with the residents to be sure they understand what I'm saying. If I notice any furrowed brows, that's a sign I need to clarify what I'm saying. It's well worth the time to make sure things are understood from the beginning.


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