Global telecommunications and the age of the computer have placed greater worth on technology and, in relation to this, the way the brain functions. Cognitive psychology orginally had a particularly intimate relationship with computer science. The emphasis on memory, problem solving, reasoning, calculation, capacity and storage provided a particularly useful analogy for how the brain might work. As we embrace technology more and more it is easy to see the relative ease with which we associate worth with ease of functionality.
With the loss or lack of cognitive skills comes the danger of a new form of prejudice against those who don't function properly.
Such is the respect given to computers that Turkle (1984) described them a form of 'second self' for much of the population. Any slight deviation, even mild changes associated with old age, have become pathologized. If it can't be fixed then it isn't valuable and perhaps should really be discarded.
What might we learn from other cultures? In China, itself an advancing technological nation, a certain level of 'childish' behavior is accepted in the very old and is not seen as a reason for treatment. In India, dementia is either less severe or less frequent, because there is greater tolerance. Neither country is perfect and abuse of the elderly does exist. Perhaps we can step back a little and learn that industrial-based cultures don't have to be intolerant. Hopefully as countries such as China and India progress, they won't choose to learn their intolerance from us.
Updated: September 30, 2006