Home / Advocacy / Semantics: The Case for “Neurodiversity” vs “Dementia”

Semantics: The Case for “Neurodiversity” vs “Dementia”

Neurodiversity colours our world. (Illustration by Charlene McLaughlin.)

Neurodiversity colours our world. (Illustration by Charlene McLaughlin.)


The humans of this world are a neurodiverse bunch.  Although we all share the same genetic composition unique to our species, the size, shape, and functions of our brains vary- and can even change over time.

The term “neurodiversity” hails from the Autistic community, and as Autistic educator, author, speaker, transdisciplinary scholar, and martial arts master Nick Walker explains,  

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species…Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a belief, a political position, or a paradigm.

People with neurodegenerative diseases- including Alzheimer’s and other dementias- live with such stigma and hopelessness, products of social constructs that place them under the label of “memory-impaired”. Identifying a person by their disease (Alzheimer’s) or disability (dementia) and using the word “impaired” to describe them puts them in a powerless position.  No one describes someone with arthritis as “mobility-impaired”.  In fact, in a public space, a person with arthritic knees and difficulty walking is offered a hand, has use of a rail, or is otherwise accommodated for their disability without a word being mentioned about their condition.

People with dementia possess a wide array of varying skills and function and are able to experience meaningful interactions in their environments, albeit differently than “neurotypicals”.

Drawing attention to neurodiversity as “a natural and valuable form of human diversity” considers those with dementia as part of a society that embraces other diversities as well- ethnic, gender, culture.  There isn’t a “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive function. 

Using the term “dementia” to describe neurocognitive function denotes a decrease in mental function which, in terms of medical jargon, may be true.  But when we’re talking about personhood, and dignity, and the vast differences among people in general, the term “dementia” denotes “less”.  And there is nothing uplifting about being considered “less”.

So I’m off to go see some of my neurodivergent patients, who live in a very neurodiverse household, and employ some of my neuro-cogntively-diverse strategies to help them function in an environment not conducive to their particular neurodiverse abilities.

Or something like that 🙂


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  1. Thank you for this unique view on dementia!

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