Anyone that has taken a communications class with Dr. Katey Price is no stranger to the topic of Alzheimer’s disease and her research. On the first day of class, Price runs through her research and the importance of starting the conversation on Alzheimer’s to destigmatize the disease.
Her passion for informing others on the toll that the disease takes on not only those diagnosed, but their families, began in 1999 when both of her grandparents were diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s in the same year. As the disease progressed in both of Price’s grandparents, the weight of responsibilities and care got heavier on her family.
“I saw the toll it took on my mom and her mental and physical health, my parent’s marriage and my mom and my aunt’s relationship; it destroyed that. I saw how it affected her ability to be a mom to me,” said Price.
Once the disease took both of her grandparents and she saw how it affected her family, Price decided that there needed to be some change in the communication surrounding Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that creates “microscopic trash” that clutters the brain until neural processing slows down, and slowly the brain itself begins to atrophy over time. The disease can progress fairly quickly or it can be spread out over a longer period of time, degenerating the brain as it progresses. For every five years after the age of 65, a person’s chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s doubles, and the disease can last anywhere from two to 20 years, ending with death. There is currently no cure, and the treatments available can only alleviate symptoms, which are oftentimes not effective.
The issue that America is facing currently, and what is most concerning to Price, is that the Baby Boomer generation is turning 65 years old now, meaning that the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will skyrocket. Generally, it takes about three people to take care of one person with Alzheimer’s, and since the American population is top-heavy in age right now, there will simply not be enough people to take care of those with Alzheimer’s. Not to mention, large pharmaceutical corporations, like Pfizer, have pulled out of funding Alzheimer’s research since there have been no advancements in finding a possible cure.
“We already have five million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s disease, which isn’t isolated to the U.S. This is a worldwide problem,” said Price. “The way our system is currently set up, we do not have the resources to take care of as many people as potentially could be getting Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the next 30 years.”.
A large part of the issue is that Americans don’t want to talk about Alzheimer’s for two reasons, said Price: it is a mental disorder, and the stigma around mental disorders in our country is unrelenting. Secondly, it is an aging disorder, and the American media advocates against signs of aging considering aging is deemed unattractive. Therefore, people don’t want to talk about the “doom” of age. The lack of communication about Alzheimer’s is extremely deadly to our society, to the Baby Boomer generation and the millennial generation.
This is where Price’s research comes in to aid against this deadly predicament. Price and Dr. Megan Hill, a professor at Albion College, are currently in the works of refining a paper on Gene Wilder, who passed in the late summer of 2016. Wilder passed because of Alzheimer’s, which the general public did not know about until his obituary was written. Price and Hill write on the fact that Wilder felt as if he had to hide his disease from the public due to the stigma surrounding it, and how the case of Wilder’s shame is true for many people with dementia. Their hopes for this paper is to inform the American public on the dire situation that is Alzheimer’s so that conversation can begin, ultimately leading to the destigmatizing of the disease.
Price is also currently working on several other projects to help better the lives of those with Alzheimer’s. A software engineer professor from Oakland University and Price are in the works of making a Smart Home for people with dementia. She is also working with the head of PACE, which is a comprehensive care program that allows Alzheimer’s patients to stay in their house and still receive care and treatment. Price is doing her part and then some in order to start the conversation on Alzheimer’s, as well as begin to help the climbing number of those diagnosed and their family members.
“We need to get the word out and try to get more young people involved in this stuff because right now you’re not worried about getting dementia, but maybe your grandparents, your parents, or maybe you down the road,” said Price. “We have no leads on trying to take care of this problem, so what’re we going to do in the meantime? We can’t ignore it, and we need to draw attention towards it.”
Photo via Katey Price