The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis


Dr. Peter Whitehouse will transform the way we think about Alzheimer's disease. In this provocative and groundbreaking book, he and Daniel George challenge the conventional wisdom about memory loss and cognitive impairment, question the current treatment for Alzheimer's disease, and provide a new approach to understanding and rethinking everything we thought we knew about brain aging.
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The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis

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Dr. Peter Whitehouse will transform the way we think about Alzheimer's disease. In this provocative and groundbreaking book, he and Daniel George challenge the conventional wisdom about memory loss and cognitive impairment, question the current treatment for Alzheimer's disease, and provide a new approach to understanding and rethinking everything we thought we knew about brain aging.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Renowned neurologist and Alzheimer's expert Whitehouse founded the University Memory and Aging Center at Case Western Reserve University. Here, he and his research assistant, George, confront traditional views of Alzheimer's, offering new perspectives that will help readers understand what Alzheimer's disease is and isn't and providing a new framework for approaching memory loss and aging with dignity. Part 1 surveys the history of Alzheimer's, including myths and the commercialization of Alzheimer's by drug companies and celebrities. The science of Alzheimer's and treatments past and present, including the merits and effectiveness of current drugs, are detailed in Part 2, as is the world of genetics and molecular medicine. In Part 3, the authors present a new model for living with brain aging, practical information on preparing for a doctor's visit, and a prescription for successful and healthy aging across the life span based on nutrition, avoiding environmental exposures, building a cognitive reserve, and community-based activity. With suggested readings and resources for more information, this enlightening book persuasively argues for a more holistic view of Alzheimer's, i.e., it's not so much a disease or a cluster of diseases as a part of the natural changes in the aging brain. An important contribution to the literature, it is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.
—Elizabeth M. Wavle

From the Publisher
“…a thought provoking book that raises important questions about later life cognitive decline and Alzheimer disease. I highly recommend it.”- Peter V. Rabins, M.D., MPH, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, co-author of The 36-Hour Day

“A landmark book. If we read Peter Whitehouse thoughtfully, we’ll never see Alzheimer’s the same way again. Agree or disagree, he has changed the way we need to think about a critical problem in our time.”- Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP

"Dr. Peter Whitehouse tackles with courageous candor current myths about "Alzheimer's disease" and offers an alternate, realistic and holistic approach to healthy and dignified aging." -Vladimir Hachinski, MD, FRCPC, DSc Distinguished University Professor University of Western Ontario University Hospital

"This book tells the story of a remarkable journey. Peter Whitehouse describes and interprets the history and meaning of Alzheimer's for our time and in doing so he makes a personal journey as a successful scientist and researcher to question and reappraise his own vales and the meaning of his work." -Harry Cayton, Chief Executive, Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, Former Chief Executive, Alzheimer's Society UK

“Bold, provocative, and compassionate. Peter Whitehouse tells the fascinating story of Alzheimer’s, and then drafts a new version: embracing the challenge of living with our changing brains, and focusing hope on community, kindness, and humanistic care. This book surely would have helped our family.”- Ann Davidson, author of Alzheimer’s: A Love Story and A Curious Kind of Widow

“The Myth of Alzheimer’s is an arresting and eminently readable book. This courageous, thoughtful book demands immediate attention.” - Margaret Lock, author of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death

“This book is of enormous relevance to persons concerned about and struggling with significant changes in cognitive functioning, as well as to family members, caregivers, clinicians, researchers, community program planners, and policy makers.” - Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain

“…a penetrating critique of the concept of Alzheimer’s disease and the medical industrial complex that created it and benefits from it. [It is] a book full of profound and practical wisdom to all who are struggling to meet the cosmic and quotidian challenges of dementia.”- Jesse F. Ballenger, Ph.D., author of Self, Senility, and Alzheimer’s Disease in Modern America

“…deliberately provocative, carefully researched, and lovingly rendered.”- Anne Basting, Director, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Center on Age & Community, author of Forget Memory

Finally, from a highly respected, vastly experienced scientist and philosopher, a sane, humane, practical, nonmedical, politically informed— in other words, revolutionary — way to understand and live with our aging brains. What a relief! What a treasure!”

- Judith Levine, author of Do You Remember Me?: A Father, a Daughter, and a Search for the Self

“Policy makers, physicians, researchers, lay people, must read this book.”

- Steven R. Sabat, author of The Experience of Alzheimer's Disease: Life Through a Tangled Veil

With wisdom, honed through years of research and practice, Dr. Whitehouse opens the door to normal aging. Dr. Whitehouse has integrated medical research with practice, guiding the reader towards a wise old age.” -Naomi Feil, executive director, the Validation Training Institute, Inc.

“With an impressive fusion of scientific data and humanistic vision Peter Whitehouse and Danny George successfully challenge the dominant conception of Alzheimer’s disease. Arguing that an AD diagnosis is “scientifically unsound and socially disruptive,” they reframe the way we think, speak and act toward our aging brains and help us imagine a better future for ourselves and our communities. “ - Cathy Greenblat PhD, author of Alive with Alzheimer’s

“Get ready for the fireworks. Peter Whitehouse has fired a shot into the midst of what he calls the Alzheimer's empire - the vast network of people and organizations that collect hundreds of millions in research funds and make billions selling drugs for treating a disease that does not exist. Whitehouse brings to his topic a level of humanism that is reminiscent of Oliver Sacks' writings about patients with cognitive differences from the so-called norm.” - David B. Wolfe, author of Ageless Marketing and co-author of Firms of Endearment

“Peter Whitehouse is very well known in Japan and around the world as a caring clinician and pioneering researcher. In Japan the government and experts have changed the words for dementia (from chi ho to nin shi sho) because we are aware of the negative effects of stigmatizing labels.” - Akira Homma, Chief of Psychiatry, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology and Founder of Japanese Society for Dementia Care

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312368166
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.77 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet 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 the 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.

Daniel George, MSc, is a research collaborator with Dr. Whitehouse at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Medical Anthropology at Oxford University in England.

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Read an Excerpt

The Myth of Alzheimer's

What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis

By Whitehouse, Peter J. St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Whitehouse, Peter J.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312368166

When we think about myths, we usually think of timeless tales of gods, heroes, and monsters that entertain and enthrall. Since the Enlightenment, mythology has been regarded as the province of more primitive minds—something humanity has moved beyond in its embrace of scientific methodology. But has science been successful in purging contemporary civilization of all myths? I don’t believe that it has or likely ever will.
In fact, although we depend on the objectivity of science, scientifically influenced fields such as medicine are often rife with their own myths and misapprehensions. This is because, as the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss1 believed, every myth—whether it be about a god hurling a lightning bolt from a mountain, a hero undertaking harrowing adventures filled with sirens, storms, and ferocious beasts, or a generation of scientists trying to fight a peculiar disease of old age—is driven by the need to address the complexities of the human condition and to try to resolve paradoxes that perplex us. In our modern age, in which remarkable scientific and technological advances have both extended and brought quality to human lives, we find major challenges to our rationality and values as science attempts tounderstand our own mysterious organ of rational thought—the brain—and the very processes of brain aging. From out of the depths of this paradox, a hundred-year-old monster has risen; it is called “Alzheimer’s disease.” 
The myth of alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease represents our culture’s attempt to make sense of a natural process (brain aging) that we cannot control. Just as past civilizations posited mythical explanations for natural events they could not explain, we have created an antagonist: a terrorizing disease of the brain that our scientists are fighting against. The pillars of the myth are as follows: 
AD is a singular disease
Despite widespread belief that there is a disease called Alzheimer’s against which science is waging war, what the public isn’t told is that so-called Alzheimer’s disease cannot be differentiated from normal aging and that no two illness courses are the same. As you will learn, there is no one biological profile of Alzheimer’s that is consistent from person to person, and all the biological hallmarks of AD are also the hallmarks of normal brain aging. 
People “get” Alzheimer’s in old age
It seems as if more people fall victim to Alzheimer’s each year. Newspapers and magazines would have us believe that Alzheimer’s is spreading throughout human populations, and especially baby boomers, like an epidemic and claiming millions more victims.
However, what you aren’t told is that we don’t even know how to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, let alone tabulate the numbers of disease victims. Because there is no single biological profile for AD, every clinical diagnosis is considered “probable”—and, frankly speaking, not even postmortem examination can differentiate a so-called AD victim from those who have aged normally. Hence, the claim that a diagnosis of “definite” Alzheimer’s can be made after death is itself questionable. The gold standard of neuropathology is a bit tarnished. No one really ever “gets” a singular disease called Alzheimer’s, and there is no evidence that Alzheimer’s is spreading throughout the baby boomer population other than the fact that the world is aging and there are more middle-aged people at risk for brain-aging phenomena. 
We can cure Alzheimer’s through the continued
investment of our public and private dollars 
The myth that Alzheimer’s is a disease separate from aging also carries the promise that science will one day win the “war” against this disease. But if Alzheimer’s cannot be differentiated from normal brain aging, to cure AD we would literally have to arrest the natural process of brain aging. I am not alone in casting doubt upon this myth. As you will read, even scientists in the Alzheimer’s research field will tell you that a cure is unlikely and that we need to invest our dollars more wisely by putting them toward prevention and care rather than predominantly in cure. However, like the myth of the Fountain of Youth, which captivated past civilizations, the promise of a panacea for one of our most dreaded “diseases” is a powerful cultural myth, and one purveyed by powerful pharmaceutical companies, advocacy organizations, and private researchers with much profit to gain. It is a myth we have been seduced by, and the combination of hype and fear it inspires has distorted our expectations and understandings about our aging brains. 
My Story
For nearly twenty-five years, I have served as a leader in the Alzheimer’s field, and have helped international Alzheimer’s organizations and pharmaceutical companies shape the rules, guidelines, diagnostic categories, and accepted clinical approaches to Alzheimer’s disease. My experiences and relationships with other colleagues have endowed me with some influence and power and have enabled me to become what the science community calls a “thought leader” (or KOL—“key opinion leader”)—one who guides our conventional thinking about a particular condition.
In the beginning of my career, at a time when no medicines had been approved specifically for Alzheimer’s and companies were unsure about how to proceed in drug development, the pharmaceutical industry reached out to me and listened to my thoughts and opinions about treating persons with memory challenges. Once drugs made their way to the market in the 1990s the relationship shifted. Rather than being interested in having my thoughts influence their views, it seemed as if industry wanted to change my mind and convince me that their drugs were worth giving to my patients. This focus on biological approaches to brain aging across our society has shifted the whole dynamic of the field away from caring for the aging patient and his family and toward drugs as the primary means of ensuring the quality of his life. Too often, aging patients and their families leave the doctor’s office with little more than a pill prescription (often encompassing several pills) and fear generated by the Alzheimer’s myth, knowing little about how to effectively care for the condition. 
This is inhumane and inexcusable.
Now, upon the one hundredth anniversary of the first case of Alzheimer’s, I feel obliged to share my stories and the insight I have gained, to inform the general public how I—a lifelong Alzheimer’s disease researcher and clinician—have evolved to espouse a different ideological position that transforms a significant portion of what I’ve believed in as a professional carer for patients. Having spent my life within the scientific, political, economic, and social institutions of the AD field—universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies—studying and treating human aging and disease, I am ready to challenge the power that the mainstream “Alzheimer’s disease” myth has over us and help people see what I have seen and to think critically about the evolution in thought that has occurred over the past several decades, which has shaped the way we see our aging bodies and minds and the way we act toward them. I want to articulate a story of brain aging that can be a starting point for helping us better cope with and prepare for the travails of cognitive decline.
No longer can we safely assume that the march of progress in the “War against AD” is moving at the hoped for speed or direction; no longer can we maintain the mythical illusion that AD is a battle against a specific disease that we will eventually “win”; no longer can we keep looking at aging persons, however embattled, as somehow “diseased.” Defining brain aging as a disease and then trying to cure it is at its root unscientific and misguided. In short, Alzheimer’s is a hundred-year old myth that is over the hill. The entire scientific, technological, and political framework for aging needs to be reassessed to better serve patients and families in order to help people maximize their quality of life as they move along the path of cognitive aging.  Copyright © 2008 by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., with Daniel George, M.Sc. All rights reserved.0   


Excerpted from The Myth of Alzheimer's by Whitehouse, Peter J. Copyright © 2008 by Whitehouse, Peter J.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Authors' Note ix

Preface xii

Part 1 The History of a Disease 1

Introduction: Revealing the Myth of Alzheimer's 3

Chapter 1 A Gateway to the Future of Old Age 21

Chapter 2 Alzheimer's 101: Taming the Scientific Story of AD 46

Chapter 3 The Troubling Legacy of Dr. Alois Alzheimer and Auguste D. 78

Chapter 4 The Birth of the Alzheimer's Empire 91

Part 2 Science and Treatment 111

Chapter 5 Waiting for Godot: Alzheimer's Treatments Past and Present 113

Chapter 6 A Brave New World of Genetics and Molecular Medicine? 148

Part 3 A New Model for Living with Brain Aging 173

Chapter 7 Identifying Who Needs A Prescription for Memory Loss 175

Chapter 8 Preparing for A Doctor's Visit 193

Chapter 9 A Prescription for Successful Aging Across Your Life Span 219

Epilogue: Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging 264

Acknowledgments 283

Appendix 287

Notes 292

Index 303

About the Authors 316

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2009

    Controversial, Not Useful

    I am an educated and well-read caregiver to a father with AD and I read this book after hearing the author on NPR. I wanted to give his ideas full consideration so I forced myself through the book. I still struggle to find a useful purpose in his approach.

    The myth he condemns is that AD is a distinct disease that can be cured; he states that it is a part of normal "brain aging" which happens to be rapid. He criticizes the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry in overemphasizing the benefits of their products and promoting the chance for a cure and AD organizations for being the benefactors of funds under this representation. And, he insists that we should focus on prevention even though he cannot identify a cause of rapid "brain aging", or what the rest of us call AD. While the author makes some good suggestions about the possible prevention or delaying of "brain aging", he bases his suggestions on associations and what he admits are studies that have not been replicated or fully proven - the very criticism he uses against the scientific/medical community who he blames for creating the dreaded label of AD.

    What he doesn't really address is that the experience of AD (or whatever he wants to call it) DOES differ from other brain aging. His desire to not label individuals could prevent families from preparing for the future, and his emphasis on prevention and interpersonal treatment lends itself to putting guilt on the person and their loved ones. He also condemns the drugs that do help some people function better for longer because they don't provide a cure - I was never led to believe they were a cure. Lastly, his complaints about too much money going for a cure vs. treatment/education/support for families is a common complaint with chronic diseases and to me, seems naïve.

    I wish Whitehouse would have written a more positive book in which he summed up the scientific limitations briefly and then focused on suggestions for preventing brain aging and promoting healthy living. However, he probably would not sell as many copies of the book without the controversial premise and title.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    Presents the actual research, not the hype.

    As someone who works in a lab researching Alzheimer Disease, I was surprised by the title but after further reading, I found what he was saying was true. The traditional view of Alzheimer Disease in the media is a view created by the hype. Alzheimer Disease is not a single disease that can be cured. There are a large number of changes that occur during aging which affect mental health and the goal of researchers should be to find the conditions under which the transition from normality to mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer Disease. Understanding this will give us a way to prevent rapid cognitive decline and treat individuals who suffer from it. You can't "cure" the loss of neurons. Once they are gone, they are gone. They can't be regrown. There is no magic bullet pill or fountain of youth that would allow us to live forever but there are plenty of elderly who don't show cognitive decline and we need to understand why. I recommend this book.

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    Posted May 25, 2010

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    Posted February 24, 2011

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