Most People, Doctors Think Dementia a Normal Part of Aging; It’s Not
Two in three people, globally, think that dementia is caused by normal aging.
One in four people, globally, think nothing can prevent dementia.
Two in three health care providers worldwide also think that dementia is part of normal aging.
All of these beliefs are false. The truth is, dementia is not a normal part of aging and although it is not fully curable, its symptoms are manageable with treatment and medication.
These and many more findings were published recently by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in its study, “World Alzheimer Report 2019: Attitudes to Dementia.”
Dementia, a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions (for instance, memory and judgment), affects around 50 million people worldwide, per the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 10 million new cases arise every year, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form of dementia. Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people, worldwide.
Yet, as per the current ADI report, around 40% of the people surveyed think health care practitioners ignore people with dementia. 35% of doctors globally have also hidden the diagnosis of a person with dementia.
The study surveyed 70,000 people from 155
One possible reason for why so few people seek help, stated the report, could be the prevailing stigma and the general attitude around the disease. During the survey, people with dementia often reported experiencing negativity and ignorance from health care professionals:
“My neurologist ignored my presence when my diagnosis was discussed with my husband.”
“My neurologist diagnosed me with Alzheimer’s at 56, telling me to go home and get my final affairs in order and wait until my premature death.”
“Many healthcare practitioners often do not believe I have dementia – which is abusive and offensive. But also, they talk over me, about me, but never to me.”
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But this negative attitude is not restricted only to professionals. Between 35% of people in high-income countries and 57% in low- and lower-middle-income countries, reported unfair treatment by intimate partners.
One of them said, “To be honest, no one wants to date a 58-year-old guy with Alzheimer’s.” Another participant added, “… my wife and I divorced due to my Alzheimer’s. Her decision.” And one more said, “I don’t date at all now. As soon as I mention I have dementia, they presume the worst. My last boyfriend wanted to hide me away, and I spoke openly about dementia. Hence, that relationship didn’t work.”
“Lack of knowledge about dementia leads to inaccurate assumptions about its effects on the person and their family and negative stereotypes about how a person with dementia will behave,” Annie Bliss of ADI told Medical News Today. “What the report confirmed for us was that stigma and negative attitudes around dementia exist in every setting, although this may present itself in many different ways.”
Therefore, what we need to work towards is dispelling the myths about a disease that, “ultimately has a physical, psychological, social, and economic impact, not only on people with dementia, but also on their carers, families and the society at large,” according to the WHO. One way to do that would be to acknowledge the symptoms, instead of dismissing them as a normal part of aging, and consider them for early diagnosis. This will help with slowing down the disease’s progression. And most importantly, it will help empower the patient to plan their future and finances and let them have a say in their long-term care.