Giving Compass' Take:

The author proposes that Americans can learn from other cultures when it comes to treating patients with dementia as an opportunity to provide support and care.

• What are the options that children have if their parents want their dementia to be a secret, and how can that make it more difficult to help them?

• Read about the difficulties in finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease. 

Picture two different families, each dealing with a diagnosis of dementia in one of its members. In one case, the patient is a retired executive, whose family tries as long as possible to keep the diagnosis secret, relying primarily on professional caregivers and eventually a nursing home. In another case, the patient is a grandmother. As soon as the diagnosis is suspected, her family pulls together, bringing her into their home and surrounding her with affection.

Perhaps the time has come to expand our thinking about dementia to encompass not only cellular but cultural perspectives. Our society needs to recognize that dementia is not only a brain disorder of the person suffering from it but also a social disorder that can be understood in a variety of different ways.

In Japan, for example, to age well is not only to avoid contracting diseases but also to maintain a circle of family and friends right up to the moment when we breathe our last.

A large segment of traditional Chinese culture tends to see such matters similarly. Confucianism places a premium on family, and the decline of cognitive capacities of those who have led long and full lives can be seen not as the onset of a disease but as an opportunity for friends and family to express how much they care.

Viewing dementia from the standpoint of other cultures can help Americans see it with fresh eyes and re-pose fundamental questions that lie at its heart. What, for example, is a person, and how is personhood situated in the larger context of family and community?

Read the full article about dementia by Lily Wolf at The Conversation