Chris Aldred was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 25 and has lived with the condition for 24 years. He blogs about living with type 1 under the name Grumpy Pumper.
How important do you think language is when talking to people with type 1 about their condition? What effect can correct and incorrect language have on the person with type 1?
I have lived with type 1 for a long time now which means that I have experienced many different healthcare professionals (HCPs). I think getting language right is very important for a healthcare professional when talking to someone with type 1 but they are not always aware of this. It’s not just language but also tone that matters. It can mean the difference between someone walking out of an appointment feeling empowered or feeling demotivated.
Could you talk about any good/bad experiences with healthcare professionals’ language as someone living with type 1?
I am very happy with my current consultant. I like that when I enter the appointment room she asks how I am rather than launching into a conversation about my numbers – I feel she sees me as a person before the diabetes. She asks me what I want to talk about and I am able to lead the conversation. I always leave feeling positive and motivated.
The most difficult experiences have always been when there are more than one healthcare professional in front of me. I have witnessed the way HCPs talk to each other about type 1 and they are generally more lax with their language. I have been talked about by HCPs when I am in the room in a manner that would suggest that I’m not there. I have lived with type 1 for a long time now and am more confident about addressing any concerns I have. This includes informing HCPs that I would like them to change the way that they are speaking or the kinds of words they are using. However, I know that some people aren’t confident to speak up if they are feeling uncomfortable and that’s a problem.
How have you used your experiences living with type 1 to shape the way that you talk to others with the condition?
I’m happy to admit that sometimes I slip up! I think the best thing to do is to ask the person you’re speaking to how they like to be referred to and the language that they like to see used. For instance, some people don’t like the term ‘diabetic’ but I wouldn’t know that unless I asked. As I am fairly vocal in the community, people sometimes come to me for advice. I always try to remember that although we live with the same condition, type 1 is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s best to just listen and try not to give advice if you’re not in a position to give it. Although it is often satisfying and necessary to vent about the stresses of managing type 1, I try to speak positively about it too.
What would you want a healthcare professional to consider when talking to someone with type 1?
Please consider the person before the condition. I think that it is easy to forget but there is so much more to a person than their blood glucose readings! By asking how someone is doing beyond their type 1, you allow the chance for the person with type 1 to open up. When someone is more open about what is happening in their life, you can get a better impression of what activities or events might be impacting their blood glucose. It’s a win-win situation. Even when you think that management can be improved please stay positive. Criticism and negativity rarely leaves a person feeling motivated to change.
Download the Language Matters publication
Language Matters is available to download as a PDF from the NHS England website.