Yu-Chih Chen

Taiwan Ministry of Education Fellow

Brown School: Social Work | PhD


Cohort 2013


Graduated 2019

Partner University:

National Taiwan University

Scholar Highlights

Wake Up America: Be Aware of Alzheimer’s Disease in the Aging Tsunami

Imagine your family members who are losing their memory gradually, and in the end they may even forget your name because Alzheimer’s disease not only wipes out their memory, but destroys their ability to love. This scene happened in the movie Still Alice, with the actress Julianne Moore playing the role of Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University. She won the 2015 best actress award for her performance.

We all have had the experience of forgetting some things, for example, keys. I bet you have had this experience, right? Many people believe that forgetting something is a normal process of aging; however, studies of cognitive psychology have showed that human memory is relatively stable, and the movie Still Alice tells us that Alzheimer’s disease is not only a disease for “older people,” but that we all have a chance to get this disease because as the movie showed, the linguistics professor Alice Howland was diagnosed with the disease in her fifties. We may, just like Alice Howland, be faced with not only losing our knowledge and the ability to communicate, but also losing the ability to learn, to love, and to live with dignity.

You may start to worry. Since this disease is so terrible, what can we do to prevent it? Scientists are still exploring the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease; however, little is known about the cause. The only thing we are very sure of is that the greatest risk factor for getting this disease is age; we have higher odds to get Alzheimer’s disease the older we get. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), one in three older adults die of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related disease. Our society is rapidly aging; it is expected that by the year 2030, 72 million baby boomers (born 1946-1964) will face the risks of Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer’s disease is not a disease just for older adults. If you once played the musical chairs game, you will understand that we all have a chance: it is just a question of whether you will get it early or late.

Today, there are over five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer’s disease is not just related to memory loss, it also takes lives away. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In addition, Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of death that can’t be slowed, stopped, or prevented.

According to www.alz.org, from 2000 to 2013, deaths from other diseases decreased significantly, whereas deaths because of Alzheimer’s disease increased by 71%. But many people living with Alzheimer’s said they were not being told their diagnosis. The disclosure rate is 93% for diagnoses of cancers that affect the breast, colon, rectum, lung, or prostate. By contrast, this number dropped to 45% when people were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The disclosure rate revealed that fewer than half of people are being told.

A common reason for not disclosing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in the past was the perceived “stigma” of the disease. However, a report from the Washington Post said that lower disclosure rate may reflect the fact that primary care physicians may simply not have the training or the time to offer a diagnosis. But several negative consequences will happen if doctors do not inform patients they have Alzheimer’s disease. For example, according to the alz.org Fact Report, families are less able to make financial plans or have less time to set up a team of care.

Although the consequences of the disease are severe, people have low awareness of it. A study from the Alzheimer Society in the UK found that people in the UK and the U.S. had lower levels of awareness of dementia: only half of people understand there is no cure for this disease, and even one-third mistakenly think Alzheimer’s disease is “a normal process of aging.”

Moreover, Alzheimer’s disease will be an economic burden if we keep ignoring this disease. Just in this year, 2015, it will cost the nation 226 billion dollars to care for people with Alzheimer’s disease; this amount is about 45% of the budget of Medicare. By 2050, the amount will increase to over 1 trillion dollars.

Now, it is the time for us to face and take actions to fight Alzheimer’s disease.