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Is Alzheimer's Disease a Disability?

Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Posts: 4,010

Scope community team

edited September 2020 in Disabled people
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, so I thought I’d write a little bit over the next 2 weeks about what Alzheimer's disease is, how we might be able to treat it, Alzheimer's disease as a disability, how we can care for people with Alzheimer's disease, and what hope there is for the future. You can read more about what Alzheimer's disease is on my last post.

The medical model of disability and the social model of disability

Alzheimer’s disease has traditionally been thought about in relation to the medical model of disability. 

The medical model of disability says that people are disabled by their impairments or differences. We at Scope believe that the medical model looks at what is 'wrong' with the person, not what the person needs. We believe it creates low expectations and leads to people losing independence, choice and control in their lives.

We therefore prefer to use the social model of disability, which says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. You can read more about the social model of disability on our website.

How society can disable those with Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer Europe outline that, as Alzheimer's disease is recognised as a condition resulting in impairments, it can lead to disability, as the structures and attitudes of society can disable the individual.

The Mental Health Foundation have outlined a useful example below: 

Many people see dementia as the individuals’ problem. They might say “you have dementia, so that’s why you find it hard to understand the bus timetable”. Other people see that certain environment and the attitudes of others can also be a major barrier to people with dementia. They might say “the bus timetable is badly written and designed- it’s hard for everyone to read”.

two older women and an older man walking in the street together

Why it's useful to think about Alzheimer's disease in terms of the social model of disability

According to the Mental Health Foundation, thinking about Alzheimer’s disease as a disability through the lens of the social model of disability, rather than the medical model, might mean that:

  • We assume that people with dementia can speak for themselves, and we should make every effort to support them in this
  • People with dementia are treated as fully human and deserving of respect
  • We focus on what people can do rather than on what they can’t
  • People with dementia have a stronger sense of a right to their place in the world, rather than as grateful recipients of help
  • People with dementia develop a stronger voice in policy decisions

As Scope follows the social model of disability, I'd like to know what you think about viewing people living with Alzheimer's disease as being disabled by society, rather than by their impairment alone? 

Read next: What is Alzheimer's?How can we care for people with Alzheimer's?, and Is there hope for the future?
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