Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Stigma Attached to Alzheimer's

Cows eat cabbage a certain way, and when it comes to how most people view those with Alzheimer's disease, there seems to be a certain way it is done. They tend to to look down on them, to see them as mentally weak, as an oddity. Not that they mean to, because, after all, it's not like they can help it. Yet, the reaction is similar to how one might react to a severely handicapped person, or to someone who was deformed in some way. Non-handicapped people tend to see the handicapped as some kind of anomaly, if you will, as peculiar. As someone they fear, because they aren't quite sure how they're supposed to act around them. Do you smile at them? Or will that make them feel like you're patronizing them? Do you just pretend they aren't there? Or will that make them feel rejected? If you do make eye contact with them, then how long before it's considered staring? Will they be able to see the pity in your eyes? It's a dilemma I'm sure a lot of people face.

One young person I know had this to say about Alzheimer's disease (in a very arrogant tone, I might add): "Alzheimer's isn't a disease. It just happens to old people. It's a genetic thing." Wow, talk about attaching a stigma. What is even more surprising is that the comment came from a very intelligent young person. Or maybe that shouldn't be surprising.

It's sad, really, the stigma that seems to be attached to Alzheimer's. At one time, I may have even been guilty of the same thing, at least to some degree. Until it happened to my dad, of course. Then it hit home. My dad -- a living, breathing person. An intelligent man, a man who accomplished great things in his life, who changed the mindset within the educational system in this State to promote greater education for the middle to lower class, to give them a chance to go beyond working at a fast food restaurant or dig ditches. To work instead as a Chefs, Nurses, and Programmers.

My dad. Not an Alzheimer's "patient." I know it's a common term, like "cancer patient," but I hate that term. For any disease. They aren't a "patient" (unless you're their doctor, of course). They aren't odd. They are a person. With a disease. That affects their brain. Called Alzheimer's.

I now know how to react. No matter what the "oddity," be it Alzheimer's, a severely handicapped person, or a homeless man on the street. I treat them like a person.

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