Time to remember dementia patients are real people

Posted on February 17, 2011 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

In our haste to label people as having Alzheimer’s Disease or as having dementia, we often create a medical stereotype and forget that the patient is a real person.

Given the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, we are quick to visualize these patients as incoherent and “less than normal.”  I have come across a number or resources lately which contradict this view and personalize the patient.

The first is a blog by Corinne Rieder, the CEO of The John A. Hartford Foundation, about her mother.  Ms. Rieder’s mother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and she tells the story about a recent visit she had with her.  I warn you, this article is tough to read without a Kleenex in hand, but the story of her visit reminds us that Alzheimer’s patients are real people, with real memories and real feelings. Thank you Cory for sharing this story.

The next is a website I recently discovered www.videocaregiving.org . In these video clips, the folks at Terra Nova Films depict real patients and real caregivers facing real issues (e.g. taking car keys away). What was most fascinating to me was that the patients are verbal, active and fairly aware of their situation.  These videos humanize the disease and its impact on both the patients and the caregivers.

Last, I recently visited Senior Friendship Centers to meet with their CEO, Bob Carter. Bob asked me to visit the adult day services component of their campus, and it was enlightening and encouraging. Once again, seeing these patients active and communicating helped remind me of the human side of dementia.

So often we are quick to stereotype patients with chronic disorders, particularly dementia. Fortunately, progress is being made.

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