National Alzheimer’s Awareness month is upon us—a time for nation-wide walks and a landscape of purple-infused paraphernalia.
These efforts to raise money and awareness to combat the country’s sixth leading cause of death are undoubtedly essential; over five million Americans are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s.
But how much do these efforts really help the individuals in our communities who are living with the disease right now–those staring down the barrel of an unknown future fraught with loss and isolation?
Outside of the actual effects of the disease, one of the most difficult things for people with Alzheimer’s to cope with is the stigma attached to the ailment–a stereotype born of misconception and misunderstanding.
As a nation, our fear of losing our minds and memories outstrips our fear of any other terminal illness, according to a 2012 survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
We fear becoming the clichéd dementia patient. The prone, vacuous entity who wouldn’t seem out of place in one of the countless post-apocalyptic zombie horror films that have frequented box offices in recent years.
All we know is what we see—the person sitting hunched in a wheelchair, or laying prone on a hospital bed. All we know is what we hear—the incoherent scream of someone in the throes of a hallucination only they can see, or the sinister silence of words stolen away by an unseen force.
We superimpose these personas over every individual with Alzheimer’s, unintentionally reinforcing a crippling stigma that compounds the difficulties facing not only people with the disease, but their friends and family as well.
Changing the view, fashioning a “cure”
Science knows so little about the biology of Alzheimer’s that doctors cannot definitively diagnose it until after a person has passed away. There’s no treatment that can prevent, halt or slow the progression of the disease, and experts agree that an effective medical intervention is still years away.
We don purple and donate money, but how can we help the men and women living with the disease today?
Not only must they navigate the harsh physical and emotional effects of Alzheimer’s, they must also endure systematic separation from a society that can’t comprehend their situation.
But hope endures—creeping along the edges of the global consciousness—in the form of individual advocates living with the disease. Several of these courageous men and women have shared their experiences as part of a ground-breaking new story, “Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s.”
They’ve offered up their stories in the hope that you will listen, learn and help spread the word about the enduring humanity that exists inside people with Alzheimer’s.
The message that cognitively impaired individuals still have a life to live and much to give to society is the non-medical “cure” that will help both current and future patients and families cope with the disease.
And it’s one we can all be a play a part in creating.
This month, to honor and support those with the disease, take a few minutes to visit FadetoBlank.org and read “Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer’s.” Share the experience with your family and friends, and be a part of constructing a better future for people with Alzheimer’s.