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When retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor revealed she had dementia in late 2018, a wave of empathy and validation washed over the Alzheimer's community. “Wow. Even her, too?”
Three things happen for us and the people we care for when a public figure opens up about a diagnosis and shares the fact of their chronic illness with us.
First, they help to destigmatize the disease. The condition becomes more visible and relatable. Suddenly, we see our friends and family changing their attitudes toward Alzheimer's disease, and even toward us as caregivers.
Second, we feel more hopeful and inspired in our own life. Knowing that a celebrity and their loved ones are facing the same day-to-day struggles we do, all while under the glare of notoriety, we are more endeared toward them. We especially feel a connection when they use their voice to bring visibility to Alzheimer's.
Finally, we feel empowered by the will of public figures to step forward and take control of the narrative about their condition under intense media scrutiny. When they show the world what it means to live with Alzheimer's, they offer a roadmap and inspire confidence for how we might do the same.
Whether famous or not, the public acknowledgment of a disease is a brave act in the face of the stigma of chronic disease. As Alzheimer's disease awareness spreads, acceptance soon follows.
Is there a notable person who has inspired you? How do you feel about celebrities discussing their condition? Share in the comments below or post on myALZteam.