Healthy Living

Understanding Isolation and the Misconceptions Surrounding Alzheimer's

Understanding Isolation and the Misconceptions Surrounding Alzheimer's

In most cases where patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there is often a gradual detachment from friends and families of the patient for one reason or the other, which ultimately leaves the individual feeling depressed, isolated and alone in the wake of such dwindle in socialization.

In addition to the feeling of depression and isolation, people with Alzheimer’s have expressed fearfulness and embarrassment in meeting with others and socializing on new frontiers due to the deteriorating state of their mental capacity caused by the illness. A recent memoir of the Late Dr. Richard Taylor, a Houston clinical psychologist who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 58, explains and gives insight to the life of a professional before his death and offers a little perspective as to why isolation is common in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

In Taylor’s book titled Alzheimer’s From the Inside Out, Taylor explains his efforts in coping with and fighting depression post-diagnosis. Taylor wrote a journal to share his experience and how he had used writing about his fears as a means of gaining control over what was happening between his ears. The book which contains 82 essays contains many chapters that highlights feelings of loneliness and isolation as the disease progressed. The late clinical psychologist explained that after his diagnosis, most colleagues and friends stop communication and visitation, leaving a feeling of loneliness and a reminiscent feeling of what socialization with friends had once been like. A particular detail in the book discusses Taylor’s experience when he finally decided to reach out to a colleague and query the communication gap. The colleague hesitantly responded that “he didn’t just know what to say,” after which Taylor had replied, “How about starting with just a hello?”

Taylor, a founding member of the Dementia Alliance International continued penning several essays through his illness and also spoke internationally on the importance of continued socialization and humanitarian contacts with people with the Alzheimer’s disease or any other forms of dementia and how such individuals were not to be classified or discounted as being “half empty.” The effects of Alzheimer’s is often quite engaging on every part of the individual’s life that the life focuses all too sudden shifts and becomes concentrated majorly on the disease with most individuals neglecting the need to keep living in other aspects of their lives and indulge in other value-adding life activities. Taylor’s colleague and consultant with Alzheimer’s Australia, Kate Swaffer, was diagnosed with some form of dementia in 2008 at the age of 49 and explained that her friends and colleagues immediately encouraged her to quit work, get her affairs in order and begin to think about the plans for her healthcare in the future. Swaffer coined the term “Prescribed disengagement” to describe the wide variety of generic recommendations she received albeit all the suggestions were well-meaning. Swaffer explained that the general public has a preconceived notion of how people who have been diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s cannot cope with the condition and how the majority belief that people with the condition are almost certainly set up to exist in a world without any type of hope, well-being or future. These types of recommendations, as highlighted by Swaffer which primarily promotes a life in isolation and negatively impacts the ability of the affected person to be proactive, positive or resilient.

The cases of Taylor and Swaffer represent two in a million cases where feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression are usually indirectly structured into the lives of the individuals due to the stigma that is often received from suffering from the Alzheimer’s condition. Irrespective that Swaffer and Taylor both dedicated years in their lives to battling and researching dementia, the best answer as to why many individuals with the condition become isolated cannot be singly pinned on the personal feelings on the patient but more with the perception and attitude of the friends, family and society to people who have been diagnosed with the debilitating condition.