Alzheimer’s, Age Panic, Neuroscience: Media Discourses of Dementia and Care
- E. Ann KaplanE. Ann KaplanDepartment of Cultural Analysis and Theory, Stony Brook University
- and Sally ChiversSally ChiversDepartment of English, Trent University
Age discrimination, long habitual internationally, is now developing into age panic as longevity becomes the norm. People are increasingly living through their 80s and 90s, threatening social systems—not just health care, but also education, transportation, and economics. A by-product of longevity is Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia more broadly, and this the focus of our essay. Five million people in the United States (the greater part women) currently have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the figure is projected to grow exponentially as the baby boom generation ages. Fear, and other powerful affects, are generated in the aging Eurocentric public through overwhelmingly negative images of dementia. Prominent circulating AD images portray white, middle-class women and men; they are typically cared for by heroic family members, with the occasional, backgrounded appearances of racialized care workers. Such discourses betray a noticeable ageism, together with gendering, racialization, and medicalization of the illness. The reification of neuroscience studies of AD perpetuates understanding of AD subjects as having lost their subjectivity and as a burden to health-care systems. As the politics of care becomes ever more fraught with the increase in numbers of diagnosed elderly people, media discourses take on particular significance. Largely negative, images have obvious implications for long-term care in discourse and in practice. Since improving care depends on how the AD subject is visualized and conceptualized, critical analyses of works dealing with age panic, and especially how it arises in relation to cultural understandings of dementia, are essential. Critiques by humanists and psychologists may contribute to improving care of AD subjects, both in long-term facilities and “in place.” Improved care can contribute to transforming the popular understanding of a dementia crisis, thus addressing the central impetus of age panic. Meanwhile, new films, fiction, memoirs, and graphic arts projects are powerful complements to psychological studies aimed at developing new ways of seeing AD subjects.