What we can learn in the ‘era of cognitive challenges,’ when politicians and celebrities have brain disorders

The World’s Transition to a Greater Understanding of Cognitive Health

The deaths of Rock Hudson in 1985 and the revelation of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease a decade later sparked important public discussions about degenerative illnesses that had long been shrouded in stigma and silence.

Today, as the baby boomer generation enters senior citizenship and advancements in diagnostics improve, society finds itself in an era characterized by heightened awareness of cognitive Health issues. However, despite the visibility of brain disorders affecting public figures, productive conversations similar to those following Hudson’s death and Reagan’s disclosure are lacking.

A recent missed opportunity to advance public understanding of cognitive impairments occurred when Senator Mitch McConnell experienced a visible lapse on camera. While news reports brought attention to the incident, the opportunity to educate the public about treatments and resources for similar brain disorders was not fully seized.

As a professor of neurology at UCLA, I firmly believe in the importance of addressing and destigmatizing cognitive Health issues. When Senator McConnell experienced a momentary seizure, it became clear to me that many older individuals will experience similar conditions. With appropriate treatment, these lapses are eminently treatable, allowing individuals to lead normal lives. However, the lack of open dialogue about cognitive Health hinders the ability to provide essential resources and support to those in need.

It is important to note that open discussions about public figures’ cognitive Health have the potential to lead to greater understanding and resources for these challenging conditions. When public figures such as Bruce Willis disclose their cognitive Health issues, it offers a valuable template for societal discussions and understanding.

At this crucial juncture, as public awareness of cognitive Health grows, it is imperative to capitalize on opportunities to educate the public, provide support for those affected, and reduce the stigma surrounding these issues. By engaging in open and informative discussions, we stand to make significant strides in the diagnosis, treatment, and support of individuals facing cognitive Health challenges.

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