Preventing Bias Against People With Alzheimer’s Disease

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by Ray Burow |

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Ageism is brutal, especially when combined with a misunderstanding of dementia. Somehow, rude people forget that they will one day get old. If we’re fortunate, growing older is the road ahead for us all. It should be everyone’s goal, since growing older is better than the alternative.

With this in mind, why aren’t elders treated more respectfully?

People with dementia face bias

I am of course speaking in broad generalizations, but as a caregiver, I’ve noticed the lack of respect and general disdain that some people have for the aged, perhaps particularly for a person with dementia. Again, generalizations, but you must know that elder people with dementia are treated with bias. The bias is often subtle — so subtle that it’s questionable if the offender knows how offensive their behavior is.

Educate offenders

Caregivers have the responsibility to protect those within their care and to also kindly educate the outside world about how they are to be treated.

I was one of my mother’s primary caregivers. On more than one occasion, my sister and I were tasked with educating people under the sphere of our influence, and those with whom our mother came into contact in society.

In the early days of Alzheimer’s disease, my mother was still able to enjoy dinner out. She was forgetful, and short-term memory loss made it too difficult to decide from the many choices on the menu. The server must have noticed us assisting her and helping her to decide between her favorites. When it came time to order, rather than addressing my mother, the server addressed me. “What would she like to drink?” she asked.

Incredibly rude, but we could hardly blame the server. She was taking her cue from us, following up on what she observed, assuming that our mother was incapable of making her own decisions and responding for herself.

This was my opportunity to educate the server about how to address a person with dementia. We didn’t embarrass the young woman, but rather followed her question about drink options with a question directed to my mom. “Mom, what would you like to drink? Soda, lemonade, or water?” Making eye contact with the server, my mother responded with her choice and a thank-you.

Advocate caregivers

When it came time to take orders for the main course, the server directed her question to my mother, whose dignity had been preserved. The server learned something that day, having been kindly educated without embarrassment.

There’s something here for caregivers to remember. We are advocates. A server should always address a person directly, whether they exhibit signs of dementia or not. However, caregivers must be ready to insert themselves into a situation. Sometimes this means answering on your loved one’s behalf, and sometimes not.

It’s not personal

Caregivers can take small steps to smooth relationships and interactions between their loved ones and the outside world. I don’t believe that people intend to be rude or even ageist. They simply haven’t had the exposure that caregivers have.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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