Today 5 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease and related memory loss, and as our population ages, that number will increase. Appropriate support services and environment, such as those residents of Welbrook Santa Monica enjoy, help them make the most of their remaining abilities, as unique individuals who continue to participate in the community and who thrive on social interaction and engagement, even as the disease progresses. “I’m still me!” we hear many people with memory loss say, even as their needs and abilities change.
Yet studies show that people with dementia often feel excluded from everyday life, and this is largely due to the unfortunate stigma associated with the disease. Sadly, some people avoid a friend who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Family, too, can experience the effects of this prejudice. “Friends and even some family members avoided me, and didn’t want to talk about my husband’s condition,” reported one wife. “It was just when we could have most used their support.”
This stigma is based on ignorance. Studies disprove so many myths about Alzheimer’s disease. For example, many people assume that people with dementia are miserable. Yet studies show many people with early-stage Alzheimer’s report having an improved outlook on life! University of Kentucky researcher Dr. Gregory Jicha noted that while depression, denial, and despair might come with the diagnosis, many people he studied expressed an appreciation and acceptance of life, lessened concern about failure, and strengthened relationships.
It’s important to fight this stigma, as we would any prejudice. Negative attitudes harm the quality of life and even stand in the way of a prompt diagnosis, and the best advance planning.
Change is possible. People with dementia and their allies are working to improve the attitudes of the public. More public programs and resources seek to support and meet the needs of people with dementia, and to create appropriate opportunities for people with and without memory loss to interact in ways that break down barriers.
A group of people in the Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group offered these suggestions about how people with memory loss can help combat the stigma:
- Be open and direct. Engage others in discussions about Alzheimer’s disease and the need for prevention, better treatment, and an eventual cure.
- Communicate the facts. Sharing accurate information is key to dispelling misconceptions about the disease. Whether a pamphlet or a link to online content, offer information to help people better understand Alzheimer’s disease.
- Seek support and stay connected. It is important to remain engaged in meaningful relationships and activities. Whether they’re family, friends, or a support group, a network is critical.
- Don’t be discouraged. Myths about the disease are not a reflection of you. See this as an educational opportunity.
- Be a part of the solution. Advocate for yourself and millions of others by speaking out and raising awareness.
Family and allies are also vital to fighting this prejudice! They can focus on their loved one’s remaining abilities and advocate for them with information, the best way to dispel prejudice. At Welbrook Santa Monica, we can attest that each resident is a unique individual. The goal of our community is to allow each resident to feel valued, successful, peaceful, cared for, and loved.