Dr. Peter Whitehouse, one of the leading experts on Alzheimers has pulled down the Alzheimer's curtain in his new book, The Alzheimers Myth. He frankly charges that the advocacy groups, the researchers, and the pharmaceutical industry all have a vested interest in raising funds for a disease that will be impossible to "cure". The hope lies in prevention and care. Be sure to check out his web site.
Why is a cure so elusive:
1. Alzheimers is not one singular disease. It's impossible to differentiate it from brain aging - it is brain aging. At age 85-95 it's normal for the brain to age. If you've seen one Alzheimers patient, you've seen one Alzheimers patient. There's no one biological profile.
2. What we call Alzheimers is caused by multiple assaults to our brains; including vascular dementia (caused by silent, tiny or large strokes) or atherosclerosis; inflammation; environmental toxins like lead, poor diet, head injuries and just plain normal aging. Many of these processes start early in life.
3. We don't really know how to diagnose this disease. We all get some of the so-called characteristic plaques and tangles of the brain--it's just a symptom of aging, not the cause of Alzheimers. Autopsies of perfectly normal functioning adults have shown the same plaques and tangles as seen in Alzheimers patients.
4. To cure Alzheimers, we'd have to arrest the process of brain aging.
What troubles Dr. Whitehouse:
The stigma of the Alzheimers diagnosis and label devastates both patients and their families. For a disease that he believes we don't even know how to diagnose, to cavalierly attach the Alzheimers label to a patient causes unnecessary stigma, pain, ostracism, anguish and shame. It's much more socially acceptable to have cancer or heart disease.
What Dr. Whitehouse suggests we do:
1. Invest research money into prevention and care for those already afflicted.
2. Exercise your body and your brain. Read (he calls books: "multi-neurotransmitter lexical devices") or listen to NPR. Listen to NPR on your (stationary) bike! No head injuries, please.
3. Make certain you put yourself in an environment where you have a sense of purpose - volunteer, do something worthwhile that you're passionate about. Stay engaged mentally & emotionally. Dr. Whitehouse & his wife run an intergenerational school in the inner city where retired seniors volunteer with students and he sees the positive effects on both age groups.
4. I love this one! We don't need randomized-controlled studies to see that any of the above recommendations are helping our brains. It's common sense.
5. Take care of our kids' brains. Prevent head injuries, protect our water and environment from toxins like lead.
6. Heart health is brain health. If it's good for the heart, it's good for the brain.
Dr. Whitehouse very poignantly says:
We're all caring for each other all the time. Let's realize we ought to have a world where we're all more care-receiving and more care-giving to each other all the time.