It’s not that hard for some residents of Dubuque and elsewhere to make jokes about Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they haven’t been directly touched by this progressive medical condition.
But those who have loved ones that have experienced this fatal disease will tell you that there’s not a lot of laughing involved: a diagnosis means that someone special to them will likely need hospice care, but first, the disease will ravage their brain, causing all sorts of physical, mental and emotional changes that can last years.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care doesn’t like to joke about Alzheimer’s disease either, although we understand that humor can be a common defensive mechanism for people trying to deal with a challenging situation for either themselves or special people in their lives.
This is understandable since humor is how some people deal with tragedies – as many say, laughter is better than the alternative of crying. And at least laughter has some benefits to the brain and body.
But we aren’t fans of people who still see some sort of a stigma about Alzheimer’s disease including that there’s something wrong with those who have it.
People can be mean in their comments about those with Alzheimer’s since there are so many negative conditions that people may experience, everything from forgetting details to wandering.
Those who research dementias including Alzheimer’s disease will tell you that it really is something that anyone can get – there’s no evidence yet on common factors why some people have it and some people don’t, whether it’s environmental or genetic or something between.
The scary thing is that more people are getting it.
Alzheimer’s News Today said the rate of cases worldwide keeps growing.
As of 2020, there were about 5.8 million Americans with the disease, a figure that’s expected to grow to 14 million people by 2060.
Worldwide, there are about 44 million people with the disease and the population with it is expected to double every five years past age 65.
Why is there an increase? Like many parts of this disease, there are a lot of questions, but one might be simple numbers. We have a growing and aging population, so that means there are more people getting older, which means more people could have these symptoms.
There is also more awareness, including more medical professionals familiar with the different phases of the disease and how to diagnose it.
So why is there still some stigma around Alzheimer’s? Here are some possible reasons:
- Lack of knowledge. It’s easy to base one’s Alzheimer’s knowledge purely on the external symptoms, like those who forget details and other behavioral changes. The average person who doesn’t have a lot of experience with the disease may not know everything that causes these changes, including brain cells that are basically damaged and dying. Researchers believe that in some people, these microscopic changes may begin more than a decade earlier. It takes that long for enough damage and deterioration to be noticeable and diagnosed. Researchers are looking for ways to detect some warning signs much earlier in life, but it’s a challenge if people don’t know or notice anything different.
- Lack of diagnosis. Not everyone who has Alzheimer’s realizes it. AlzheimersNewsToday said about 1 in 4 people with the disease gets diagnosed. They, or their friends and family members, may not think there’s anything out of the ordinary about forgetting details or experiencing some of the early common symptoms like difficulty carrying on conversations.
- Lack of knowledge about dementia. People are often surprised that there are more than 10 common types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is just one of them. It’s the most common one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of them have different signs and symptoms, and some even can be treated. Alzheimer’s disease currently can’t be cured, although the advance of some of the different phases can be slowed down with lifestyle changes like increased exercise and a better diet.
- Unfamiliarity with Alzheimer’s disease research. So many studies have taken place in the last decade. Though a universal cure or vaccination hasn’t been found, there’s still a lot that has been learned in the last few years. Interestingly, it was first discovered as early as 1906, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, but really wasn’t until the 1990s that treatments started being available. Research has increased as well into various factors, partly because of more awareness and more funding, and partly out of urgency. The population is getting older and more people or their families will be experiencing it.
If you know people who are making jokes, hopefully, more out of ignorance than cruelty, direct them to official resources like the Alzheimer’s Association, which has all sorts of information about the disease as well as local support. It’s also a place to meet volunteers from your local community and get involved in activities and fundraisers.
The Alzheimer’s Disease International site is another useful site and has information about World Alzheimer’s Month, a global campaign of awareness that takes place all through September.