Dementia, Demented, Dementors

Some time last year, I met up with a couple of close friends and updated them on my mother’s condition. During the conversation, I started to say, “now that my mother is demented…” and I stopped. It just sounded wrong.

My friend, D, who so happens to have a Masters in English Language and Literature, chided me. “No you can’t say she is demented. She has dementia, and it is not the same thing.”

Well, this year I started blogging, and realised that demented is often used to describe someone with dementia. To lay the matter to rest, I decided to consult fellow blogger Dotty Headbanger, who is not only fluent and quick-witted, she is also from the United Kingdom, where the Queen’s English is spake. And in Singapore and Malaysia, which were once upon a time colonies of the British Empire where the sun never set, the Queen’s language still counts for something. (But we are gradually becoming Americanised.. don’t tell Dotty).

Here reproduced in full is Dotty’s answer:

Dotty Headbanger  /  March 31, 2012

Dear frangipani,

Don’t get me started on political correctness, I’ll pop my mental, nutty, loony head.

Dementia = demented
Mental illness = mental
in the same way that arthritis = arthritic or diabetes = diabetic or amputated = amputee.

What isn’t okay is to use derogatory terms to describe someone, but


Sorry, the world’s gone daft.

Love Dotty xxx


Thank you for clearing that up, Dotty!

Now in case you are wondering why Dementors is in the title – I just thought it made a nice set. Maybe JK Rowling coined the term to suggest demons, and torment. Their presence induced paralysing fear and catatonia, but not the slow creeping dementia as we know it.

image from Wikipedia
Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

11 thoughts on “Dementia, Demented, Dementors”

      1. Words are words…you know what you are meaning to say. Whatever YOU are comfortable with is what is important. Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Memory-loss are my words of choice. I trust my husband, who is a Brit raised on the Queen’s language would agree, if he could.


      2. Yes, they’re just words after all. I suppose we as caregivers want to choose words that reflect our respect and love for the person with this dreadful disease. Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Language is interestingly nuanced by culture. In itself, it’s just a symbol. The meaning we attach to the symbol is fluid with social associations. Common sense might tell you that someone who is mentally retarded is a retard, but cultural sensibilities can tell you that “mentally handicapped” is a nicer way to put it. Sense and correctness is just what we decide it is.


  2. Dear frangipani,
    If I were you I’d take absolutely no notice of what anyone says regarding the words or phrases you choose to use. You’re not speaking unkindly, you’re not saying anything that will harm people, (your mother least of all), and anyone who has any sense will know this. Sod the lot of them, that’s what I say, concentrate on what YOU know is important and let them heap their smug little pedanticisms on someone else.
    Love Dotty xxx


  3. I understand your post all too well because in this society we have altered the meaning of the word to be one more derogatory that it’s initial essence. I refer to my father as being demented, even saying ‘demented daddy’ in posts but I do so out of love. The journey through his world of dementia has been long and will probably continue for awhile so humor has it’s place too. Actions speak louder than words and if your care is loving at home then I think that is so much more important. But
    Dotty is great at telling it like it is, isn’t she?


  4. You had a great idea to consult Dotty; still, as you know, she is mental, so be careful. I love her to pieces! “Has dementia” is a less direct way of saying this — it’s what you might use to talk to family and friends about your mother’s condition. But as long as you continue to write in clear, understandable English, I think you can convey your intent using the word or the phrase. 😎 P.S. I feel the same about political correctness as Dotty does. We’ve gone so far down that road that we have become a world of sniveling crybabies who can’t see any possibility of ever speaking bluntly. Sad.


  5. Thanks all for sharing your wisdom. It is clear now the adjective “demented” more often than not carries negative connotations, and so it should be used with care, tenderness and respect.
    As language evolves, who knows one day “demented” might return to mainstream use in a non-negative sense.


  6. Dotty your humor about such ‘serious-ness’ is admirable. I am looking forward to reading more. Thanks for adding your name to the growing list of people who I now understand, are on this amazing journey with our parents. Much love to you. Beth from middlescapes.


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