Today is World Alzheimer's Day (but isn’t it every day?)

WADFor most of us, World Alzheimer’s Day is today, Monday 21st, 2015. That means that at midnight of Tuesday 22nd we get to pretend we have Alzheimer’s disease and forget all about it for the following 364 days. But for people who do have this mental illness – as well as their caregivers – every day is Alzheimer’s Day. Now I’m not trying to steal a page from Shirley Caesar’s book when she sang that every day is like mother’s day. Nothing against mothers, but I believe Mr. T has already done a great job giving props to our female progenitors.

What is meant, then, with the expression “every day is World Alzheimer’s Day”? Quite literally that. People with Alzheimer’s disease cannot remember the previous day, effectively making this and every single day the exact same day. Now imagine what it would be like for you to live out the same day over and over again. Or, if you can’t be bothered to use your imagination, go watch Groundhog Day again. To use a different filmic metaphor, it’s like people with Alzheimer are trapped within the 60 minutes during which Klaatu held the Earth still. Now imagine what it would be like if every day were like the day the Earth stood still? It would be as excruciating as Keanu Reeves’s remake of that movie.

It could be argued that not being able to remember is precisely the greatest advantage for the mentally ill. And in fact, they don’t know that they don’t know – and to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, some people, if they don’t know, you can’t tell them. However, that does not in any way, shape, or form make the plight of people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones any less poignant the rest of the year when it’s not World Alzheimer’s Day. Furthermore, it only places a great responsibility upon our shoulders. We have to remember for those who can’t, and we have to raise awareness in those who can remember but don’t know – that is, those who dismiss cognitive decline as a normal part of aging. It is not. Dementia in general and Alzheimer’s disease in particular are very serious conditions that affect patients and families alike – and which may affect you and me in the future (the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 14 million by 2050, according to the CDC). There but for the grace of god, as they say.

So by all means honor and observe World Alzheimer’s Day. If you do not know how to do that, the Huffington Post suggests five actions to take on this day. But do not be like those guys who pulling out Christmas decoration on the morning of December 26th. Allow the spirit of this day to linger on. Do not let today be nothing but a one-day reprieve from the social stigma that surrounds people with mental disorders. The support of family and friends is essential for the wellbeing of these persons, and chances are you may – unbeknownst to you – have a relative with Alzheimer’s, or know someone who does. Let’s put like this; if your mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and every day should be like mother’s day, well, you do the math. Lest we forget.  

Related: Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: What’s next?