By Chloe Elmer
Picture a zombie, and images of horror movies will flash before your eyes.
The guttural sounds.
Loved ones now unrecognizable.
Anything but human.
In his latest Forbes column, “Alzheimer’s Disease Patients Aren’t Zombies; They’re People And We Need To Treat Them Like People,” Penn Memory Center Co-Director Jason Karlawish takes on the metaphor that Alzheimer’s patient are the living dead of Hollywood films and horror novels.
“There comes a stage of Alzheimer’s disease when people no longer recognize the ones they love: their spouses, friends and children,” Karlawish wrote. “They may ask for long-dead relatives. They may ask to go home, when in fact they are home.
“The crushing fear of this produces a dangerous metaphor for the disease: patients become a kind of living dead or, in a word, zombies.”
In his column, Karlawish recalled the embarrassment of a patient who forgot she had a husband. Karlawish, trying to judge the woman’s level of cognitive impairment, recognized it was also his duty to treat the woman with the respect any person deserves.
“When we stigmatize a group of people, we cease to care,” he wrote. “The stigmatized become a threat, a burden. They’re put in ghettos, deported, even eliminated.”
Out of discussions he and his students over the work of author Alice Munro, including “In Sight of the Lake” Karlawish argued for stories that subvert the zombie metaphor.
“The lives of the patient and caregiver aren’t a juxtaposition of the unreal versus the real. They both live in the surreal,” Karlawish said. “The challenge of living with Alzheimer’s disease, whether as patient or caregiver, is to negotiate this ‘surreality.’”
To read the complete column, visit Forbes.com.