Should people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease share their dementia diagnosis with family, friends, coworkers and employers? Certainly there are pros and cons to be carefully weighed when faced with a terminal illness having a negative social stigma attached to it, one of vulnerability, weakness and outright fear. After all, no one wants to deal with the cognitive decline and eventual death sentence of a loved one or acquaintance.
Disadvantages of disclosing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis might include jeopardizing a person’s job or alienating them from those ignorant about the disease. On the other hand, benefits of disclosure include bringing more awareness of the disease to the general public, generating additional support from the community, and finding inner acceptance that might pave the way for helpful treatment options to slow the progression of the disease while improving the quality of precious time that is left.
Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston and Glen Campbell felt full public disclosure of Alzheimer’s disease was the proper course of action, using their celebrity to raise awareness for an illness fraught with uncertainty and impending doom. Others in the past just receded from public life, including Rita Hayworth, Barry Goldwater, Perry Como, Charles Bronson and a long list of other celebrities who privately battled dementia.
My own mother chose to deny her progressing illness and refused to ever discuss her obvious mental decline with family or to seek medical treatment of any kind. I would have much preferred to share her illness openly and support her along the way; it would have made our final years together less stressful and her death more tolerable.
For that reason, I greatly admire those who decide to publicly announce their Alzheimer’s diagnosis for their bravery and awareness efforts, people like Ronald Reagan and most recently Glen Campbell. Just like with cancer, there is much time left to focus on living with Alzheimer’s after a diagnosis.
What do you think? Should an Alzheimer’s disease patient openly share their illness with the world, or should they keep their condition private?