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A few months ago I read The Myth of Alzheimer’s, by  Peter Whitehouse, MD and Daniel George, M.SC. Dr. Whitehouse gives two scenarios of meeting with a new patient who is worried about having Alzheimer’s. In the first, the physician orders many many tests then later meets with the patient to discuss the results.  The results indicate that the individual is in the early stages of dementia, and the physician recommends medication and paints a bleak future.  The second scenario is the same except fewer tests are ordered and a much different treatment is suggested. Medication may help, but there are things you can do.  Some examples are older people reading stories to youngsters and young people talking with elders getting their stories. Whitehouse was the physician in the scenarios at two different times in his career. His thinking about brain aging has changed over the years in a dramatic way.

Whitehouse reviews how the label of Alzheimer’s came to be in the diagnostic classification work of Emil Kraepelin and the professional politics involved.  Even Alois Alzheimer, who worked with Kraepelin,  was not sure he had found a specific entity.  All our brains age and do so in different ways and at different rates. Some are outliers and have little deterioration and some have a great deal. Exercise and life long learning can help maintain brain function.  Having a sense of purpose is also a factor in maintaining brain function. The popular notion that Alzheimer’s can only be truly diagnosed at autopsy is also a myth. We all develop plaques and tangles in our brains over time.  Remember from The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain how Sister Bernadette and the master chess player both  had plaques and tangles at autopsy that indicated advanced dementia, but neither had shown indicators of dementia before death.

Listen to an interview with Dr. Whitehouse.  You can learn more about his ideas at The Myth of Alzheimer’s.

Interview, part 1:

Interview, part 2:


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