We Must Move One Step Forward
At all times, we need to speak for individuals with Alzheimer's disease who can no longer speak for themselves. But there are points when our responsibility becomes even more imperative. The controversy that flared up last week-and continues to burn-after religious broadcaster Pat Robertson likened Alzheimer's disease to "a walking death" on his "700 Club" show on the Christian Broadcasting Network marks one of those times.
Every time I think our nation has moved one step forward on Alzheimer's disease, comments like Mr. Robertson's unfortunately set us two steps back. We cannot afford to regress-not given the skyrocketing incidence of the disease, the stigma and misperceptions that continue to surround it, and, moreover, the enormous hardship that this brain disorder bears for the affected individuals and their families.
In a public statement I issued in response to this incident, I noted that his comments highlight the need for more education about Alzheimer's disease and better understanding of the complexities it poses for individuals with the disorder and their families. These complex issues impact every aspect of their lives, from the physical to the emotional, for the very reason that we are talking about people who are, in fact, living.
I said, in part: "There is no doubt that this heartbreaking disease robs people of their memories and other intellectual functions, but to liken Alzheimer's disease to, as Mr. Robertson said, ‘a kind of death' fosters an insensitivity that feeds misperceptions about the disease. It fails to take into account that people with Alzheimer's disease, although impaired, deserve optimal care and dignity. Love and compassion are the greatest gifts for every human being until their very last breath."
Coincidentally, just prior to Mr. Robertson's remarks that were the talk of the town, and particularly dominated social media, another conversation about Alzheimer's disease was populating Twitter last week. However, this chat on #talkalz "got it." (#talkalz is a new chat on Twitter that takes place the 2nd Tuesday of each month at noon ET).
Discussing the impact of Alzheimer's disease, two comments, in particular, mirrored my thoughts on the very basics people need to know.
"No matter our disease or disability, we retain our basic need to give and receive love," tweeted one participant.
"Realize that each person has their own interests, strengths and spirit, regardless of the stage they are in," emphasized another.
There is no doubt that every case of Alzheimer's disease and every family situation differ. But in order to defeat Alzheimer's disease and improve quality of life for individuals with the disease and their families, the latter are the kinds of constructive comments we need to perpetuate.