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The Alzheimer’s Myth: A Review

Is Alzheimer’s disease just a myth and the resulting brain degeneration caused by aging and affected by conditions and lifestyle choices? That’s a question posed by neurology, geriatrics, dementia, and cognitive science expert Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, Ph.d. in his book, The Alzheimer’s myth. This groundbreaking book asks the questions that many early-diagnosed patients and their families ask about coping with the condition.

While Whitehouse was instrumental in developing and testing pharmaceuticals (prescription drugs) to treat “Alzheimer’s disease” for more than 30 years, in 2007, he had a kind of “awakening” that made him question the true intention from pharmaceutical companies. His goal with the book is not only to influence the pharmaceutical industry in the way they do business, but also to guide baby boomers in their aging process and healthcare professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of brain aging.

The myth that Whitehouse describes is that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a unique disease without a unique biological profile of the condition. Natural aging in a person has the same biological characteristics as a person diagnosed with AD. Since we do not have the biological markers to actually diagnose AD, even those who are said to have it alone can be considered “probable.” Your concern is that there is promise to “cure” AD, although it may be nothing more than accelerated brain aging. Prevention first and the care of those diagnosed is where the money should be invested, they are their points. All of our brains are aging and the fear of Alzheimer’s disease, along with the hope for a cure, are simply mythical.

Parts one and two of the book expose some of the shaky clinical, political, and scientific frameworks for AD and describe why the condition is so difficult to treat or “cure.” He encourages the vision of AD as a “change of self” that must be addressed by the individual and their family as we age. Whitehouse proposes that the term Alzheimer’s, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer for his 1901-1906 cases, distorts our expectations and understanding of the human brain. Dr. Alzheimer treated the first documented AD victim, a 51-year-old woman with troublesome symptoms that Dr. Alzheimer described with “Cause of Disease: Aeriosclerosis” and “Form of Disease: Simple Mental Disorder.”

The third part offers good advice and preventive measures to reduce the risk of cognitive aging. Whitehouse helps identify those who need a prescription for memory loss. It describes the ten “symptoms” used by the Alzheimer’s Association for the need for care and possibly medication, and then helps the reader decide what is “normal” for each symptom. A guide to visiting a doctor about AD is provided with suggested questions to ask and what to expect. The final part of the book offers excellent suggestions regarding diet and nutrition, exercise, environmental factors, limiting stress, and building a cognitive reserve.

This book is well written and easy to read, with the text divided into paragraph headings, many vignettes, photos and drawings, and many boxed shots. Individual stories of labeled Alzheimer’s patients are included to take the points home with you. If only the masses read this book before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they will be well served in the future.

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