This Is Why I Hate Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

December 05, 2014
Dr. Bill Thomas, ChangingAging.org

If you are in the mood for a slapped together blog post that is simultaneously alarmist and deeply pessimistic you might want to read Ken Dychtwald’s recent piece on Huffington Post for Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

If, however, you happen to live with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you might want to skip this one. According to Dychtwald, you’ve already “been beat” by this “horrible, destructive and expensive” disease. None of his seven recommendations addresses improving quality of life for people living with dementia — instead, his pharma-centric agenda focuses exclusively on a pie-in-the-sky miracle cure.

Unfortunately, this kind of fear-mongering rhetoric is not the exception, it’s the rule. That is why I hate Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Dychtwald leads off with the not very surprising news that the people he’s surveyed on behalf of Merrill Lynch fear dementia more than they fear cancer. I’m not sure why this would be news. After all, all of his subjects know people who beat cancer and overcame heart attacks. None of them know anyone who has been cured of Alzheimer’s disease. His research shows that people fear an incurable disease more than curable diseases. How very interesting.

If you find the will to keep reading you will encounter insights like these:

“This disease will need to be beaten by science. What’s needed are new breakthrough medicines or treatments that attack the causes of the disease directly. And they’re needed NOW!”

“Currently, Alzheimer’s is 100 percent incurable — and strikes people down regardless of their gender, lifestyle or education level.”

“I propose that we raise awareness of just how horrible, destructive and expensive this disease is and that we deploy the attention and resources needed to beat Alzheimer’s before it beats us.”

The obvious conclusion Dychtwald fails to draw from his own research is that Alzheimer’s disease is not the most feared condition related to aging — it is the most stigmatized, thanks to exactly this kind of ageist, inflammatory and de-personalizing rhetoric.

The sad thing is that there was a time when Ken Dychtwald stood for something new and exciting. He used to be able to peer into the future and see what others could not even imagine. While he was not looking, or was busy tending to other constituencies, or both– the world has changed. A new zeitgeist is leading a wide range of people to think, write and dream about aging in radically more person-centered ways. The language of “silver Tsunami’s and “age quakes” has given way to a richer and more developmental approach to age and the challenges that come with aging.

In the new spirit of aging and as a fond remembrance of how Ken Dychtwald used to be, I offer the following as an alternative to his subsidized fear mongering:

“We are blessed to live in an age of discovery and human aging continues to unlock new understandings of the human condition, its meaning and purpose. The genius of aging has always lain within its extraordinary capacity for helping us find the virtues that are hidden inside the urgent demands of necessity. Those of us who are living with Alzheimer’s can and will lead the way forward as we all explore the outer limits of personhood and well-being in the last decades of life. Someday, a cure for what we call Alzheimer’s may be found. When that happens I will be happy to march in the victory parade. Until that day comes, however, I will lead the fight against the victimization and depersonalization of people living with Alzheimer’s.”

This post originally appeared on ChaningAging.org.

5 Comments. Leave new

Thank you for this counter-weight to the demoralizing HuffPost article. Of course, research into a cure should continue. But in the meantime, rather than write off those already affected, let’s direct a healthy portion of our energies to maintaining their dignity and quality of life.

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“a richer and more developmental approach to age and the challenges that come with aging.” <—— THIS

and

"The genius of aging has always lain within its extraordinary capacity for helping us find the virtues that are hidden inside the urgent demands of necessity."

That one should be on the sides of city school buses in NYC, those ones that take elders around town midday in between runs with the kids.

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Not sure I’m seeing the argument against awareness month? Understanding is the first step to destigmatising. Raising awareness of dementia is critical to breaking down fear, misconception and stigma. When I started out people were just seen as “senile” and to be locked away. We have come a long way since then, largely due to better awareness, understanding and empathy. Let’s not throw the baby out with bathwater just because some people use the awareness month to put out old paradigm thinking!

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This is such a horrible article that comes up first when I search for alz month. Ridiculous. A pie in the sky cure is exactly what we need. Science can do so much that to find nothing that can reverse the effects is just sad. Your article should be about Embracing Alzheimer’s month but doing so in a way that lets your voice be heard that you think the mission can be redirected or subdirected in another division. Absolutely ridiculous both your article & the huffington post…they care more about being progressive and appealing to the far far left than anything. Stand for something, listen to those you disagree with, and be open to learning even if you disagree. When we don’t communicate and when we cannot do to our views and withdraw ourselves is when society pulls itself down, not up. Raise up and support Alzheimer’s month

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