Aug 25, 2012

Age Discrimination in Alzheimer's Disease

It is not our place to decide when anyone has lived “long enough.” We must provide the best quality of life and support, regardless of age.

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Age Discrimination in Alzheimer's Disease
In his recent article about the town hall meeting, Bob asked if anyone was aware of school support for students dealing with Alzheimer’s at home.

I have become pretty adept at doing internet searches, since I frequently have to find homes for puzzles in areas as far away as Colombia and Britain. However, in my search to answer Bob’s question, I found no programs, sponsored by schools, with the goal of helping youth dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in their lives.

This leads me to think about why this type of support is not readily available. I believe that the answer is age discrimination.

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In a struggling economy, I believe there is a reluctance to invest money in care or treatments for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. There is an often held view that limited funds are best spent on improving the lives of people who have longer to live. It’s viewed as almost a cost/benefit situation.

Even Great Grams, with dementia, identified this problem. I can remember that when she went to physicians, she lied about her age. One would think that a physician is exactly who needs to be aware of a patient’s age. However, Great Grams said that if the doctor thought she was over 80, he would do less to help her. Was she right? Perhaps, with too many individuals, she was right.

There seems to be a too widely held belief that those over 80 have already had the opportunity to live, and that funds are better spent for much younger patients.

Perhaps, this is why funds for cures and prevention of Alzheimer’s are a bit easier to get than funds to help those suffering from the disease. Younger people want to invest in NOT GETTING the disease. Younger people want to invest in cures that will alleviate the impending financial disaster that Alzheimer’s is about to create.

However, many younger people, not touched by this disease, have no strong feelings about prolonging the lives or improving the lives of people, many who have already attained the average life expectancy and are currently being viewed as a financial burden.

Does society have the right to discard the elderly?

I work weekly in a Veteran’s Hospital, taking part in dementia clinic. I can honestly say that this is the saddest part of my week.

These individuals fought and gave us our freedom. Society OWES it to these individuals to make their lives as good as possible, whether they are 50, or 70, or 90.

It is not our place to decide when these veterans, or anyone, have lived “long enough.” We must provide the best quality of life and support, regardless of age.

Of course, the ONES whose lives are changed by the enormity of caring for Alzheimer’s patients, know better. They realize that middle-aged people’s lives are being overwhelmed by the job of caregiving.

They realize that every day young children are dealing with this disease, coming home to parents who either are victims of early-onset Alzheimer’s or who are being caregivers for grandparents with the disease.

However, many of those unaffected, continue to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye.

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University.  His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of  PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Max also works as a Research Intern in the Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room