200048 Addressing the myth of Alzheimer's: What you aren't being told about today's most dreaded diagnosis

Monday, November 9, 2009: 10:30 AM

Danny George , Hertford College, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Peter Whitehouse , Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
The label Alzheimer's disease (AD) has existed for nearly 100-years. Although Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist, described what became know as the first case in 1906, he was never certain he had described a new “disease” entity. His boss, Emil Kraepelin coined the term “Alzheimer's Disease” for the first time in his psychiatry text book in 1910.

We will discuss what has been learned about the scientific and clinical concept of “AD” over the last 100 years. Specifically, are we interpreting the evidence of heterogeneity appropriately and improving quality of life of those affected by aging associated cognitive challenges? One of the most important recent developments has been a widening appreciation of the variability of “AD.” Genetically, four chromosomes and hundreds of mutations have been identified as causing or contributing to AD. Neuropathologically, the extent and distribution of neuronal loss, plaques and tangles, and other pathological features varies considerably. Many patients have characteristic “AD” features without experiencing frank dementia. Neurochemically, some neurotransmitter systems are affected consistently (cholinergic), but others are not (serotonergic, adrenergic). Additionally, the variable and idiosyncratic course of each “Alzheimer's case” that has been characterized by research centers around the world leads many, if not most, experts to now believe that multiple processes contribute to the vast brain changes that we currently refer to as a singular disease—AD. So-called “Alzheimer's disease” also overlaps with many other conditions such as parkinsonism and vascular dementia. These findings bring about new avenues for research and policy initiatives.

Learning Objectives:
1. List three biological, historical and cultural reasons why the dominant story of Alzheimer’s is distorted. 2. Explain the various dimensions of the heterogeneity of so-called Alzheimer’s. 3. Demonstrate why a broader social and ecological approach is needed to brain aging.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am ABD in medical anthropology at Oxford University and have co-authored the book "The Myth of Alzheimer's" with Dr. Peter Whitehouse.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.