Neuroscience and Society

Stigmas and Stereotypes: The Societal Pressures of Memory Loss and Learning Disorders

Neelima Paleti


   After over two months of relaxing summer break, kids from all around the country start to stumble into school hallways, energized and anxious for the new year. But some are different. Among the crowds of smiling faces are the gloomy ones portraying sheer misery. This particular group of students may love to learn, but nonetheless, they continue to dread the thought of school. Students with learning disorders are often the victims of such circumstances in schools across the nation. Regardless of their desire to improve and succeed, they may fall short, only leading to more frustration. While teachers battle to encourage such students to proceed at a pace of their own, many students eventually lose their confidence at the sight of peers striding forward. Soon enough, the friends, who were once patient enough to wait, could skip away. Sometime down the road, a countless number of these students could easily buckle under the societal constraints bestowed to people with learning disorders.

    While kids are struggling to make new friends, adults on the opposite end of the spectrum may be dealing with situations of the same sort. As an elderly woman shuffles her way out of the house to drive over to the nearest grocery store, she realizes that her keys are not in her bag. Following fifteen minutes of searching around the house, she finds her lanyard of keys lying near her bedstand, where she had last left them. Once she finally made it to the store, there was yet more confusion as she struggled to remember the items on her shopping list. This was not an unusual day for this woman, as old age started to take a toll on her once sharp memory. As her son started to intervene, he noticed the prevalence of her memory loss in every small activity, which prompted him to take action. Out of pure concern, the son prevented his elderly mother from driving, leaving her feeling powerless. With a continuous degradation of memory, even her small home was forced to change, as she was moved to a nursing facility. With such traumatic denial by her own community, the victim of dementia could be brought down more by the society and family than the disease itself.

    Learning disorders and memory loss are prevalent conditions that can influence the lives of its patients in quite profound ways. ADHD, dyslexia, amnesia, and Alzheimer’s are amongst the most commonly seen disorders with societal effects extending beyond the physical manifestations. A child with dyslexia is bound to learn at significantly slower rates when compared to peers, and with the heavy competition of today’s world, the initial frustration could double and soon triple. With lost friendships, anxious parents, and impatient educators, the pressure on a student could lead to irreparable mental damage. This does not even include the painful remarks and unnecessary questions asked by the general public. Likewise, an amnesia patient who has lived a normal life for decades could be losing their precious autonomy for the very first time. The revocation of a license and the move from home to a care facility could be shocking revelations in the life of an elderly patient who has become accustomed to his/her independence. The lack of trust and overly cautious looks from their friends, family, and public could be distressing, as they find no one to welcome them anymore.

    Over the decades, society has been responsible for developing and perpetuating certain stigmas  associated with memory loss and learning disorders. For example, the belief that intellectually challenged students cannot learn has been a perspective quite common in the public (Gibson, 2008). However, success is different for every student, and recognizing that the rate of acquiring new knowledge may be different for each could be the key to change. Social comparisons can be detrimental to the crucial development of children, and the movement to stop perpetuating such behavior stands to be quite essential. Likewise, the negative perceptions towards people with psychological or memory disorders can be the factor that fuels stigmas against patients with amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease (Batsch, 2012). Global communities and cultures are known to shun memory loss patients and put dementia patients under house arrest to escape public shame. Even in developed countries, the traditions of moving Alzheimer’s disease patients to nursing homes could deprive them of the needed love needed to foster good health. However, due to the bustling lives of the workforce today, such situations cannot be easily averted. Lastly, many stereotypes unrightfully paint victims of dementia in a disrespectful manner. Many people fail to take the words of a dementia patient seriously, whether that is while they offer their opinions at the dinner table or while they give advice to their children. Blatantly rejecting every word of a memory loss patient by citing their words as “foolish nonsense” is not the way society can end the perpetuation of stigmas. Instead, boosting the self-esteem of people with both memory loss and learning disorders can be the path to heal individuals.

    As society begins to fight stigmas associated with these conditions and more, it becomes imperative to review the systems in place for better quality care and reception of those in need. Whether it is the education systems in place or the nursing facilities around town, each place can change small aspects to diminish stigmas. Educators can develop new ways to integrate students with and without learning disabilities in order to raise awareness of the different ways of learning. Seeing that classmates having trouble in the classroom can be just as good friends as those with straight A’s can certainly boost the perspective of an ordinary elementary student. This would in turn eliminate isolation and allow for ideal emotional development.

    In a similar manner, introducing more people to the effects of dementia can educate and inspire caretakers to treat such patients normally. Being aware that the global treatment of dementia patients is not necessarily the same as conditions in wealthier countries is in fact a large step towards change. Noticing that dementia patients are not receiving the respect they deserve can lower the prevalence of stigmas, as well.

    As such societal norms are rethought, a new pathway for change can be carved, leading to a society that reduces, instead of sustains, the arisal of stereotypes and stigmas of these various conditions.


References


  1. Batsch, N. L. (2012). Edinburgh Research Archive. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/2630

  2. Gibson, C. P. (2008). Overcoming the Stigma of the Learning Disability Label: A Story of Survival and Recovery. Retrieved August 23, 2016, from http://www.acadcom.com/acanews1/anmviewer.asp?a=53

Neelima Paleti

Neelima Paleti


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