Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Changing the Public's Perception

By now most of you know that yesterday R. Sargeant Shriver, 95, died of Alzheimer's Disease. He was best known for launching The Peace Corps, a public service organization founded by his brother-in-law by marriage, President John F. Kennedy.

So often public figures recede from the limelight once illness steps in, but the Shrivers allowed people to see a bit of their family's battle with Alzheimer's after their patriarch was diagnosed in 2003. In doing so, they helped remove the stigma attached to the memory-impairment disease and created greater awareness of its symptoms and prevalence. Maria Shriver in particular, because of her role as a media celebrity and former California First Lady, has been a strong advocate.

In today's Los Angeles Times (originally posted in The Baltimore Sun), University of Maryland Professor William Thomas notes that it was the family's approach to Alzheimer's that impacted our perception of people dying of the disease.

"Instead, he was a person living with Alzheimer's, and that's an absolutely crucial distinction," Thomas said. "What the Shrivers were about were sort of normalizing this disease. It is important for people of stature, like the Shrivers, to step into the light and to be seen and to tell their story, because so many other people feel like they can't do that."

Thomas calls Alzheimer's a "silent epidemic." The number of people with the disease is growing, but they are often an invisible group, living many times in nursing homes, away from society at large

You can read the full article here.