When a person is affected by a debilitating disease or condition, it seems as though there is always some type of stigma attached. This is most likely the result of misunderstanding, or perhaps even fear surrounding the illness or affliction.
What is a Stigma?
Historically, a stigma was a word meaning a mark that branded a person—such as a slave—indicating the person was inferior. In the Oxford Dictionary a stigma is a mark of disgrace, linked with a certain person, or circumstance. A common modern-day definition of stigma, according to the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia is, “a complex social experience, referring to the reaction of others when a person was thought to deviate from normal. A stigma is often described as a process in which a label—such as a diagnosis—links a person to discrediting characteristics associated with that label.”
The Stigma Associated with AD
The medical experts say that the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD),“has been grounded in a disease label that is based on a diagnosis of disabling cognitive and behavioral impairments, that is, dementia caused by AD,” according to a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health.
In AD, the stigma that is oftentimes attached to the disease can be devastating for the person who must carry the label of having dementia. It can cause the person with AD to have feelings of low self-worth and even incompetence. Many people with AD want to isolate because of this—which is one of the worst things for AD symptoms. Feeling stigmatized and judged can lead to loneliness, depression and economic hardship in people with dementia.
But, thankfully, not everyone stigmatizes Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Study of High School Students and AD Stigma
Research in the area of public stigma and Alzheimer disease is attracting increased attention in the last years. However, studies are limited to assessing the topic among adult persons.
A new study was conducted to find out how high school students viewed people with Alzheimer’s disease, and the results were surprising—in a good way!
The study, involving 460 high school students, aged 14 to 15, was conducted to measure the percentage of teenagers who have a stigma toward an older person with dementia. The study also examined whether majority or minority status was linked with stigmatic beliefs.
In the study, a little over half of the student participants were female (55.1%), and the rest were male. Most of the study subjects were Jewish (64.6%) and the remainder were Arabs. Each student was given a questionnaire to evaluate any stigma or ageism linked with Alzheimer’s.
The study authors concluded that high-school students reported “relatively low levels of stigmatic beliefs toward a person with AD.” The findings from the majority- minority status portion of the study revealed that Arab high school students had higher levels of stigma toward a person with AD, compared to Jewish students.
The researchers said that the results of the study indicated just how important it is to develop intervention programs (tailored to the specific cultural values and needs) for students at an early age.