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Why the Stigma?

Excerpt from Daily Cures, Wisdom for Healthy Aging by Connie Mason Michaelis

The world I work in is filled with people concerned about the effects of aging. New research is changing this field daily. With the advent of the Baby Boomers hitting their 70s, it is at the forefront of the medical and public conversation. There is one topic in Senior Healthcare that has a significant stigma attached to it; the issue is Dementia, including Alzheimer’s. If an individual has heart problems, cancer, or diabetes, there is a clear path to get help. We have all types of screening in our healthcare regimen for the early detection of numerous diseases. Once a diagnosis is made, we have multiple choices of treatment to pursue. Most people are open and willing to discuss these concerns with their doctors, family, and support team. It is my observation that Dementia can be an unmentionable topic for many and that denial may be a detriment to getting an early diagnosis and treatment.

Why are so many folks in denial about memory loss? For both the individual who has signs of decline and the family and friends who are observing the change in mental status, there is often an awkward silence. Dementia is a topic that is extremely difficult to talk about. It can be met with severe disavowal and even hostile rejection. Why? Unlike other diagnoses, Dementia is a family disease, and the acknowledgment of the symptoms is seen differently. Spouses are living so closely that it may skew their perceptions. Siblings may disagree. Even physicians can overlook the subtleties. Is it because it fits into the broader category of mental illness, which can be considered to be a taboo topic? Is it too frightening because of the lack of a cure? Is it pride and ego? Whatever the reason, the conversation needs to be opened. Silence is the enemy. My mantra continues to be, plan for the future, including how you would handle the prognosis of cognitive impairment for a loved one or yourself.

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