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Word of the Week: Degenerative

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Each week, Verywell explains a term from health, medicine, science, or technology.

Degenerative

How to say it: Degenerative (dee-jen-er-ah-tiv)

What it meansRelating to or causing degeneration (loss, decline, or deterioration)

Where it comes from: The term degenerative comes from the word degenerate. In Latin, the word degeneratus meant "to be inferior to one's ancestors."

A photo of a brain scan on a computer screen.

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Where you might see or hear it: Some medical conditions are considered to be “degenerative” because they cause a loss or breakdown of parts of the body. When this happens, a person might not be able to do the things that they normally do, such as waking or talking with ease.

For example, if you have progressive multiple sclerosis, your doctor will probably explain that it is a degenerative condition. As nerves become damaged, you might start to find it more difficult to do the things that are a typical part of your day, like getting dressed, cooking meals, or even speaking.

When you might want to use itIf you find out that you have a degenerative condition, you will want to talk to your loved ones about how it might change your life. You can explain that the word “degenerative” means that as the condition changes or damages your body, you might not be able to do certain things as well as you did before. You might need extra help with tasks (like grocery shopping or cleaning) or you might have to stop doing certain things (like driving).

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