Silence on dementia: privacy or stigma?
David Thouless, emeritus professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, was on the three winners of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. He won half of the prize for his work on topological phase transitions: Duncan Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz shared the other half for work in the same field.
The University of Washington has seen several Nobel Prize winners in the past few decades, but none were announced in such a muted fashion. Neither the University of Washington or the local Seattle Times or Seattle P.I. told any stories about Thouless’s family, or about his reaction to hearing he had won. Announcements from Stockholm and newspaper articles from the rest of the USA were also quiet on personal details.
Of course, some of the more personal stories do take time to appear. But yet, in a story about the three Physics Nobel Prize winners in The Telegraph in the UK was a hint about the reason for the silence- “However Prof Thouless is now suffering from dementia and may not be aware of the prize, colleagues said.”
And from the same article: ” Prof Ray Jones, who worked under Prof Thouless at the University of Birmingham said: “I wonder if he will appreciate the prize to the same extent now. It is very sad that it has come so late because I know things have been getting very difficult with David.
“It’s rather tragic that is has been left so long, but it’s maybe the story of David’s life. He was 40 before he was elected to the Royal Society and I think it should have happened a long time before. He was ferociously talented, and had a very deep insight into physics.”
Adding “dementia” to a search with “Thouless” and “Seattle” yielded not a newspaper story about the Nobel Prize winner, but TV and newspaper reports about David Thouless being one of 2 people in Seattle with dementia that were lost, and a police report announced that he had been found. Still, no word of family, struggles with dementia, or anything personal.
Seattle press is remarkably restrained, saying little ever, for example, about local resident Bill Gates or his family, and this might be just part of the local culture to keep a health issue private. Perhaps it is Thouless’ request that dementia not be mentioned. Hopefully, this is not due to the stigma that dementia still has, even (or especially?) in academia.