Using war metaphors in reference to Alzheimer’s disease should be replaced with messages of resilience against a complex, age-associated condition, according to a team of researchers.
Framing a health issue through comparisons to warfare is common in popular media and medical and research communities. While it can motivate efforts to deal with the issue, this type of language and messaging can also create fear and stigma, turn patients into victims and divert resources from critically important prevention and care, the researchers say.
Scholars have argued that metaphors and narratives that treat disease as something to be attacked can be socially damaging to those affected. The value of such metaphors may be clearer for infectious diseases caused by single pathogens. It becomes more problematic when discussing diverse, age-associated syndromes like Alzheimer’s that may not be fully curable. In this way, war metaphors in medicine can invite ways of thinking that may not be scientifically or socially productive.
The researchers propose moving toward different types of metaphors — those that encourage use of words like “slow” or “postpone” rather than “prevent” or “cure,” and emphasize building “resilience” to aging processes in the brain rather than aiming at “absolute victory” over a disease. While “fighting” and “defeating” Alzheimer’s through drug development is important, the authors argue it may be wiser to acknowledge that Alzheimer’s is not a disease disconnected from the aging process like polio or malaria.
Moving beyond the notion of being at war against Alzheimer’s could also serve to humanize cognitive aging, the researchers say.
Paper: “Asking More of Our Metaphors: Narrative Strategies to End the ‘War on Alzheimer’s’ and Humanize Cognitive Aging.”
Reprinted from materials provided by Penn State.