Alzheimer’s disease, is it a mental illness?
Alzheimer’s disease is formally recognized as a mental illness. The disease and its symptoms are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), which is the main tool used to diagnose mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder. However, there is danger in viewing Alzheimer’s disease as a mental illness in regards to societal stigma and treatment approaches.
The Stigma of “Mental Illness”
Popular culture often paints a scary, intimidating, misunderstood, damaging, and unfortunate view of “mental illness.” When the words Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness are paired, the stigma knows no bounds. People who are unfamiliar with the symptoms and etiology of Alzheimer’s disease may take an equally negative stance toward individuals who live with the disease. The danger lies in the potential for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease to be treated with disrespect, fear, and contempt. As addressed by Dr. Joseph J Sivak’s February, 18, 2010 blog article “I Hate Alzheimer’s,” societal stigma of mental illness may permeate the image of Alzheimer’s disease and could result in compromised care. Jaimie Robinson, Chicago Bridge Blog Writer, also wrote about this stigma in a recent post title “Are you afraid of Alzheimer’s: 8 Considerations.”
Approximately 90% of individuals who live with Alzheimer’s disease in the late stage Alzheimer’s disease residen in skilled nursing facilities. There has been some attention from media outlets to the dangers of elderly Alzheimer’s patients living with individuals with severe mental illness in terms of general safety concerns for the older residents. Another important thing to consider is the regular use of psychotropic drugs in nursing facilities to suppress the behaviors of those with mental illnesses. With new approaches to Alzheimer’s care calling to limit the use of pharmacological interventions, nursing home staff must experience a shift in mentality and practice. Therefore, staff must begin to view and approach care for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease differently than that of people with mental illness.
Eliminating Alzheimer’s disease from the DSM
While stigma and treatment approaches take time and dedication to change, the American Psychiatric Association has the power to make the first big step toward re-classifying Alzheimer’s disease by eliminating it from the DSM. Until that happens, medical and psychology professionals in training will continue to learn of Alzheimer’s as a mental illness.
Many thanks to Emily Langendorf and Jaimie Robinson for editing this post. And, schnaars for letting us use this photo.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, read the following Chicago Bridge blog posts.
Posted on May 13th, 2011 by Jaimie Robinson
Posted on March 7th, 2011 by Jaimie Robinson
Posted on January 13th, 2011 by Jaimie Robinson
Posted on January 1st, 2011 by Jaimie Robinson