Senior citizens face a large amount of social stigma as a group and it may be preventing many of them from being screened for the early signs of dementia. Social stigma describes a false and often negative belief about a group of people that leads to discrimination against them. Minority races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations are common targets of stigma, but people of an advanced age also experience a considerable amount of discrimination.
For example, there is little acceptance of sexual activity among seniors because of the widespread opinion that it is “gross”. Obviously, this is a false and negative belief that has spawned a discriminatory attitude. There are many other examples that deserve to be examined, but we are going to focus on one of the most damaging stigmas toward people of an advanced age, which is the belief that dementia is an unavoidable side effect of growing older.
Setting the Record Straight
In reality, it is a scientifically recognized fact that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are not a normal part of aging. A moderate amount of memory loss and a reduction in the efficiency of some mental processes can be expected as we reach advanced ages, but in no way is this comparable to the devastating effects of dementia.
People experiencing normal aging will have trouble remembering someone’s name or important dates from time to time, but those with dementia may forget where they live or who they are. Dementia can also include a wide range of symptoms that are not exclusively cognitive in nature, like movement disorders and speech impairments.
How Misinformation Causes Harm
The false belief that dementia is part of normal aging has multiple negative effects, some of which impact a larger part of the population than seniors alone.
- Older people are reluctant to get tested because they think their symptoms are normal.
- Older people are embarrassed to discuss symptoms with others because they think it will bring ridicule.
- People around seniors are less likely to notice abnormal changes in their cognition.
- Society, in general, is less sympathetic to seniors who may be experiencing dementia.
- By associating dementia exclusively with age, younger people are unlikely to be tested, even though many young-onset versions of dementia exist (like early-onset Alzheimer’s).
Clearly, social stigma about dementia testing is a serious problem that is likely preventing a large number of people from experiencing the benefits of an early diagnosis despite the availability of easy to use, scientifically-validated, at-home screening tools like the BrainTest® app.
Changing the Narrative
The best way to reduce the prevalence of false beliefs is to promote the correct information. As a society, we need to be more mindful of the fact that dementia is a severe condition that can potentially affect people at a much younger age than is generally expected. It is unacceptable that people are made to feel embarrassed about the idea of being screened for the early symptoms of dementia. A larger effort should be given to highlighting the need to recognize it as a smart, rational, and responsible decision.