Author Pratchett calls for end to dementia stigma

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Top-selling author Terry Pratchett called on Tuesday for greater awareness of Alzheimer’s disease as a report found sufferers of the degenerative brain disorder were “plagued by a stigma” and shunned by society.

Pratchett, the creator of the “Discworld” series who announced last year that he had a rare form of Alzheimer’s, said people needed to talk openly about dementia.

“It’s a strange life when you ‘come out’. People get embarrassed, lower their voices and get lost for words,” said the author, who has sold tens of millions of books worldwide.

“Seven hundred thousand people who have dementia in this country are not heard. I’m fortunate: I can be heard.”

In its report “Dementia: Out of the Shadows,” the Alzheimer’s Society said half of all Britons thought dementia was a condition plagued by stigma.

Sufferers reported that they had lost friends, neighbors crossed the street when they approached, while health professionals dismissed their symptoms as old age.

“Today’s report exposes the desperate need to increase awareness among the public and professionals,” said Neil Hunt, the Society’s chief executive.

“There must be an investment in national awareness campaigns. It’s absolutely disgraceful that people with dementia are still plagued by a stigma that affects their friends, families and the professionals they rely on for help.”

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said the report’s findings were a “national scandal.”

“Nobody in a civilized society should have the burden of stigma added to the stress of coping with dementia, and everyone with the condition -- not just the minority -- should expect a quick diagnosis and a high level of support from health professionals,” he said.

Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Paul Casciato