Ready to fight against Alzheimer's disease? Join us as we tackle the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the illness and the latest research driving progress towards a cure.
Imagine waking up one day and not recognising your loved ones, your home, or even your reflection. This is the devastating reality for many individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition that acts like a thief, robbing its victims of their memories. Despite its prevalence in the population and its precedence in the medical field, the disease remains sorely misunderstood and severely stigmatised. The fight against Alzheimer’s is, therefore, not just a battle against the disease but also the stigma surrounding it.
To break down the stigma, we need to begin by breaking down what Alzheimer’s disease is. It is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects memory, thinking, and behaviour. As the condition progresses and symptoms worsen, once-simple tasks become difficult for patients, such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed. However, it is important to note that the disease affects each individual differently.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia every year worldwide, of which Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60–70% of cases. Regardless of these numbers, there still exists a significant amount of stigma surrounding the disease, including public stigma, familial stigma, and self-stigma.
Public stigma around Alzheimer’s, first and foremost, is perpetuated by stereotypes, either about the disease or its patients. One stereotype about Alzheimer's disease is that it is a normal part of ageing. This stereotype downplays the seriousness of the condition and the severity of its symptoms, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. The other stereotype about Alzheimer's patients is that they are no longer themselves — they are 'the living dead' or 'empty shells'. This stereotype, and its derogatory names and labels, maintain the misconception that these patients have lost their identity or sense of self. While the disease can cause changes in behaviour, personality, and cognitive abilities/capabilities, it does not undermine the dignity and respect that these patients deserve. We must recognise that Alzheimer's patients are unique individuals with their own histories, experiences, and relationships and not define them solely by their diagnosis.
Familial stigma around Alzheimer's can manifest in several forms, including denial or avoidance of the disease or its diagnosis, shame or blame towards the patient, and social isolation of themselves or the patient, among others. And more often than not, familial stigma translates into self-stigma, meaning the negative attitudes and beliefs that Alzheimer's patients may internalise about themselves, leading to feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment. Fear of stigma can further fuel the fear of the disease and diagnosis, deterring patients from seeking medical care and resulting in missed opportunities for early detection and treatment.
While the stigmas discussed above are pertinent, they are just the tip of the iceberg; many more lie beneath the surface, unaddressed. Nevertheless, the strategies to combat these stigmas are the same. One of the most effective ways is to educate and raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease to help dispel myths and dispute stereotypes. Another way is to create support groups for Alzheimer's patients and their families to offer a safe space for open communication. The other way is to practise empathy and understanding towards Alzheimer's patients and their families to show them that they are not alone and that their feelings and experiences are valid. By implementing these strategies (and more), we can work towards breaking down the stigma surrounding Alzheimer's disease and creating a more inclusive and supportive community for those affected.
The fight against Alzheimer's disease has been a long and hard-fought battle on the medical front. While current treatment methods temporarily reduce the symptoms of memory loss and cognitive impairment by boosting the performance of brain chemicals that transmit information between brain cells, these methods are only a stopgap solution as they do not prevent the progressive decline and death of brain cells. However, the war against Alzheimer’s is not over yet. As funding for Alzheimer's research surges, there is renewed hope on the horizon for breakthroughs in treatment and detection methods.
Alzheimer's disease is caused by the abnormal accumulation of proteins, namely amyloid plaques and tau tangles, around and within brain cells — a process that sets in years before symptoms do.
As the medical community charges ahead with Alzheimer's research, we must not forget about those currently living with the disease. Our ultimate goal should not only be to discover a cure but also to offer treatment and detection methods that are accessible and affordable to everyone, regardless of their socio-economic background.
But our efforts do not stop at finding solutions — we also need to raise awareness and rally support for those affected by Alzheimer's, recognising that they are more than just their diagnosis. This disease can place a heavy burden on individuals and their families, both socially and emotionally. Therefore, as a society, we must come together to address these challenges and strive towards a future where those with Alzheimer's can live with dignity and respect.
In this fight against Alzheimer's disease, we are all in this together. It is not just the responsibility of the medical community but ours to create a community that affords them hope. As we celebrate the festive season of Raya, let us keep those living with Alzheimer's in our hearts and minds. And let us use this special occasion to shed light on the disease and spread love and kindness to those affected by it.
Eid Mubarak to all! And to them, we say, 'You are not alone!'
Esther Ng is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours) at Taylor’s University. As a former president of the Taylor’s College Student Council, she discovered her love for writing as a means of stress relief during her term.
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