The Myth of Alzheimer’s

The Myth of Alzheimer’s by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. and Daniel George, M.Sc. is an important book. The myth is that Alzheimer’s is a single disease, and that a drug will be developed that serves as a silver bullet and eradicate Alzheimer’s. Whitehouse is no crackpot. He knows whereof he speaks. Note that he has a Ph.D and an M.D. Although he is now working as a clinician, he spent many years at the forefront of research on drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He was a prominent researcher who was well funded and promoted by drug companies. When he became convinced that a cure for Alzheimer’s was not forthcoming, he turned his efforts to treatment.

Note that a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, even with today’s brain imaging technology cannot be made while the patient is living. It must await the autopsy of the individual. The presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles would confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The problem is that autopsies of people who have shown no indications of cognitive impairments have also shown the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Most drug treatments have been targeted to remove or mitigate these amyloid plaques or neurofibrillary tangles. Although some drug treatments have been able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in some people, these drugs typically have side effects and cannot prevent its progression. In some cases they just slow the occurrence of death, which prevents release from this degraded state. In an interesting history of the disease it becomes clear that its founder, Alois Alzheimer, had doubts that this was a distinct disease and that scientific competition forced Alzheimer’s employer to convince Alzheimer to call it a distinct disease.

The thesis of the book is best captured from the following excerpt from page 220, …”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes besides the promises of the AD empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for AD to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitve decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The book provides a superb tutorial on the history of AD from its unassuming beginnings to the development of an AD Empire. It reviews the science underlying AD and the role of genetics in AD. It discusses past and present treatments for AD. It explains how to identify someone who might need a prescription for memory loss, and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit. It presents a new model for living with brain aging as well as a prescription for successful aging across the life span. An epilogue is titled “Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging.”

This is an important and interesting book for everyone, but especially for us Baby Boomers.

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