Is Alzheimer’s disease just a myth and the resulting brain degeneration caused by aging and affected by lifestyle conditions and choices? That is a question posed by neurology, geriatrics, dementia and cognitive science expert Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, Ph.d. in his book, The Myth of Alzheimer’s. This ground breaking book asks the questions that so many early diagnosed patients and their families ask about dealing with the condition.
While Whitehouse was instrumental in developing and testing pharmaceuticals – prescription medications – to treat “Alzheimer’s disease” for over 30 years, in 2007, he had an “awakening” of sorts that made him question the true intent of pharmaceutical companies. His goal with the book is to not only influence the pharmaceutical industry in the way they do business, but also to hopefully guide baby boomers in their aging process and health care professionals in diagnosing and treating brain aging.
The myth Whitehouse describes is that of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) being a singular disease with no one biological profile of the condition. Natural aging in one person has the same biological hallmarks in one diagnosed with AD. Since we don’t have the biological markers to actually diagnose AD, even those people who are stated to have it can only be deemed “probable.” The concern he has is that there is a promise of “curing” AD, although it may be nothing more than accelerated brain aging. Prevention first and the care for those diagnosed are where dollars should be invested are his points. All of our brains are aging and the fear of AD, along with the hope of a cure are merely mythical.
Part one and two of the book expose some of the unsound clinical, political and scientific framework of AD and describe why it is so difficult to treat or “cure” the condition. He encourages the view of AD as a “changing of self” that must be addressed by the individual and his family as we are aging. Whitehouse proposes that the term Alzheimer’s, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer for his cases from 1901-1906, distorts our expectations and understanding of the human brain. Dr. Alzheimer treated the first documented sufferer of AD, a 51 year old woman with problematic symptoms that Dr. Alzheimer described with “Cause of illness: Aeriosclerosis” and “Form of illness: simple mental disorder.”
Part three offers sound advice and preventive measures to reduce the risk cognitive aging. Whitehouse helps to identify those who need a prescription for memory loss. He describes the ten “symptoms” used by the Alzheimer’s Association for needing attention and possibly medication, and then helps the reader decide what is “normal” on each symptom. A guide to visiting with a physician about AD is offered with suggestions for questions to ask and what to expect. The final part of the book offers excellent suggestions in the way of food and nutrition, exercise, environmental factors, limiting stress and building a cognitive reserve.
This book is well written and easy to read – with the text broken up with paragraph headings, lots of bullet points, photos and drawings, and plenty of out-takes boxed in. Individual stories of patients labeled with Alzheimer’s are included to bring the points home. If only the masses would pick up this book before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they will be well-served in the future.