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The Myth of Alzheimer’s September 12, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Health & Wellness, Mindfulness.
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Our innate desire to form complete mental images encourages us to use “label makers” to categorize the world around us . . . even if doing so requires shaving off non-conforming jagged edges in order to stuff square pegs into round holes.

“It is easier to know man in general than to know one man in particular.” ~ Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Once a label is applied, accurate or not, we are placed into convenient cubby holes with others of like label.  Henceforth, instead of being seen as unique and distinct beings, we are viewed through filters, using the law of averages and stereotypical information, often out-dated. 

Over-encompassing medical diagnoses (e.g., Attention Deficit Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Alzheimer’s Disease) are labels which lump  patients together, like sheep or cattle, for convenient herding, classification,  and marketing.

Yesterday, I read The Myth of Alzheimer’s ~ What You Aren’t Being Told About Today’s Most Dreaded Diagnosis.  The book substantiates what I’ve long suspected:  Alzheimer’s is not a disease . . . it is a diagnosis

Alzheimer’s is a convenient, albeit misguided, label used to categorize dementia, memory loss, and cognitive impairment:

This is not merely a semantics issue over Alzheimer’s versus senility.  Scientists still can’t agree upon what Alzheimer’s is.  As you will see, it is a disease without a clear-cut definition; there is no agreed-upon way to differentiate AD from normal aging, making every diagnosis only “possible” or “probable,” and every individual case heterogeneous and unique in its course. 

Existing treatments are not effective, and talk of a “cure” is based on faith, not measured scientific extrapolations.

One thing we do know is that Alzheimer’s is a multibillion-dollar industry, and that the label is driven in large part by the pharmaceutical industry and by some academic experts and others who use the exaggerated characterization of AD entrepreneurially to promote maximum concern for dementia and therefore maximize research support of the disorder and sustain the clinical empire that has been built around it. 

The medical story of AD generates fear, paranoia, angst, and stigmatization while evoking powerful social and emotional images.  A diagnosis of AD can act in many ways as a death sentence of the mind, which imprisons many still-functional adults to a mental death row.  By trying to de-stigmatize cognitive decline with a disease label that takes the onus off the person, we have actually made the ostracism of the sufferers worse.  The words we use to describe diseases have the potential to do emotional and societal harm.

Alzheimer’s “disease” is a multi-billion dollar industry centered around a diagnostic label which inspires fear, expands research budgets, inflates drug sales, and promotes elaborate diagnostic testing protocols.

This deceptive and crippling label allows pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs to families desperate to slow progression of “the disease,” and allows the Alzheimer’s Association to raise money for “victims” in a race for a cure . . . selling hope through hype.

Aging is not a disease to be cured.

Instead of rushing in with label makers to diagnose “disease,” or hoping that THEY find a “cure” for brain aging, Dr. Whitehouse urges us to accept personal  responsibility for maintaining optimal levels of cognitive health  through diet, exercise, intellectual stimulation, stress reduction, social networking, and the promotion of other healthy habits.

After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Aah . . . that’s better!

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About the Author:  Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., one of the best known Alzheimer’s experts in the world, specializes in neurology with an interest in geriatrics and cognitive science and a focus on dementia.  He is the founder of the University Alzheimer Center (now the University Memory and Aging Center) at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University where he has held professorships in neurology, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, organizational behavior, bioethics, cognitive science, nursing, and history.  He is also currently a practicing geriatric neurologist. With his wife, Catherine, he founded The Intergenerational School, an award winning, internationally recognized public school committed to enhancing lifelong cognitive vitality.