Myth of Alzheimer's

How we can best protect our aging minds

The Myth of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's is not one single condition.

The loss of memory and other cognitive abilities that occurs with aging is a source of understandable individual and social concern. Although the cognitive frailty of elders has been recorded since the time of the ancient Egyptians, the aging of the human population on our planet has created a challenge both now and for our increasingly fragile future. How we frame aging-associated cognitive challenges in the 21st century will have a profound effect on how older individuals and their families suffer and how we mount appropriate social responses. The dominant model for conceptualizing brain aging is being displayed in Chicago this week at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD). Biological scientists and their pharmaceutical allies want us to find a "cure" for what they consider a singular condition unrelated to aging--namely, so-called Alzheimer's disease.

In this blog, we will explore how and why the 100-year story of Alzheimer's disease has come to have so much influence on our lives, and assert our belief that the story needs to change. We refer to Alzheimer's as a "myth" (And indeed, that is the title of our recently released book The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis (St. Martin's Press, 2008) because it is persuasive, powerful, faith-based, and largely misguided. The "we" is Peter Whitehouse, a geriatric neurologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and ethicist, who has worked for 25-years in research and clinical care for persons with the condition he used to call "Alzheimer's disease," and Daniel George, a 26-year old expert of narrative, intergenerational learning, and medical anthropology.

Our next several posts will focus on diagnosis/ labeling and treatments/interventions for people with aging associate cognitive challenges.George Bernard Shaw once said that "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." We certainly appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts on Psychology Today, and promise that our perspective will challenge the orthodoxy about Alzheimer's disease and replace our fear, pessimism and despair with new story that reflects our shared desire to restore hope and possibility to the aging process.

Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, PhD is a geriatric neurologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and deep bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of The Myth of Alzheimer's.


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