A Public Anthropology Talk
Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library
May 11, 2016
“Ageing in times of Alzheimer’s: Tales of change, culture, and solidarities”
Annette Leibing (University of Montreal)
A great number of societies are aging at an unprecedented rate around the world; as a result, Alzheimer’s disease, with old age as its most important risk factor, has become a central concern of governments, doctors, and people as they age. Individuals worry both about how to prevent cognitive decline (and in some places, it seems the incidence of dementia has been reduced in recent years), as well as how to treat the symptoms of what has been called ‘the disease of the century’. What can anthropologists contribute to this global preoccupation? In this talk I want to argue that diagnostic categories, such as “Alzheimer’s disease” are not innocent – they need to be seen as, often taken for granted ways of defining subjectivities and ways of living. As an example, Alzheimer’s disease was once defined as a brain disease, while more recently, this notion has changed to a condition, which, like other diseases, has an important cardiovascular component. Further, diagnostic categories ‘travel’ around the world and become integrated (or challenged) by local realities. I want to tell the story of Alzheimer’s disease in Brazil, a country, which I have I have studied for the last 25 years. Brazil has the sixth largest population of elderly people in the world, and has experienced an increase of 500% of seniors within the last 40 years (Ministry of Health n.d.). Reflecting on research in Brazil this talk will explore ways in which this ‘new’ medical condition has slowly transformed clinical and everyday practices: stigma surrounding “craziness” has been partly reduced, and the responsibility of care has largely been transferred from the family, to the medical institution. I will conclude this talk by asking what can be learned from a recent Brazilian history when thinking about the Canadian context.