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INDIANAPOLIS–Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia do not mean you are required to retire from public life, said Dr. Ellen Miller, executive director for the Center for Aging and Community, at the University of Indianapolis. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said this week that she has chosen to leave public life following her diagnosis.

“When someone is first diagnosed they can function as a part of society for many years in the early stages of any kind of dementia,” said Miller. “It’s kind of a sad thing, I think, that people feel like they need to remove themselves just because they have a disease process.”

Miller said she believes the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s is damaging.

“We need to do a better job of making our communities ready to receive, not only people with Alzheimer’s as part of the community, but also their caregivers.”

Miller said people are sometimes embarrassed about interacting with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s.


“The behavior is unpredictable,” she said. “It’s the uncertainty of the interactions that becomes embarrassing or concerning and people just don’t know how to deal with it, so they avoid it.”

Miller said society is still not ready, though, for people with the disease to participate fully. “It means we still have a lot of work to do.”

She said the number of people with Alzheimer’s may triple in the next couple of decades, and that she is hopeful for both a cure, and for better medications that help alleviate symptoms until a cure is found. She is also hopeful that people are able to understand the disease and the people who have it better, so that they are able to remain functioning members of society as long as possible.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz