If you are in the mood for a slapped together blog post that is simultaneously alarmist and deeply pessimistic you might want to read Ken Dychtwald’s recent piece on Huffington Post for Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
If, however, you happen to live with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you might want to skip this one. According to Dychtwald, you’ve already “been beat” by this “horrible, destructive and expensive” disease. None of his seven recommendations addresses improving quality of life for people living with dementia — instead, his pharma-centric agenda focuses exclusively on a pie-in-the-sky miracle cure.
Unfortunately, this kind of fear-mongering rhetoric is not the exception, it’s the rule. That is why I hate Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
Dychtwald leads off with the not very surprising news that the people he’s surveyed on behalf of Merrill Lynch fear dementia more than they fear cancer. I’m not sure why this would be news. After all, all of his subjects know people who beat cancer and overcame heart attacks. None of them know anyone who has been cured of Alzheimer’s disease. His research shows that people fear an incurable disease more than curable diseases. How very interesting.
If you find the will to keep reading you will encounter insights like these:
“This disease will need to be beaten by science. What’s needed are new breakthrough medicines or treatments that attack the causes of the disease directly. And they’re needed NOW!”
“Currently, Alzheimer’s is 100 percent incurable — and strikes people down regardless of their gender, lifestyle or education level.”
“I propose that we raise awareness of just how horrible, destructive and expensive this disease is and that we deploy the attention and resources needed to beat Alzheimer’s before it beats us.”
The obvious conclusion Dychtwald fails to draw from his own research is that Alzheimer’s disease is not the most feared condition related to aging — it is the most stigmatized, thanks to exactly this kind of ageist, inflammatory and de-personalizing rhetoric.
The sad thing is that there was a time when Ken Dychtwald stood for something new and exciting. He used to be able to peer into the future and see what others could not even imagine. While he was not looking, or was busy tending to other constituencies, or both– the world has changed. A new zeitgeist is leading a wide range of people to think, write and dream about aging in radically more person-centered ways. The language of “silver Tsunami’s and “age quakes” has given way to a richer and more developmental approach to age and the challenges that come with aging.
In the new spirit of aging and as a fond remembrance of how Ken Dychtwald used to be, I offer the following as an alternative to his subsidized fear mongering:
“We are blessed to live in an age of discovery and human aging continues to unlock new understandings of the human condition, its meaning and purpose. The genius of aging has always lain within its extraordinary capacity for helping us find the virtues that are hidden inside the urgent demands of necessity. Those of us who are living with Alzheimer’s can and will lead the way forward as we all explore the outer limits of personhood and well-being in the last decades of life. Someday, a cure for what we call Alzheimer’s may be found. When that happens I will be happy to march in the victory parade. Until that day comes, however, I will lead the fight against the victimization and depersonalization of people living with Alzheimer’s.”