Psychology of Consciousness
Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic
Anchor Books, 2003
EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES The reader will be able to:
• Discover how Alzheimer's is a disease that has reached epidemic proportions
• Analyze the connections between the developing skills of a child and the decrease in cognitive ability that besets Alzheimer's patients
• Recognize early stages
• Analyze rehabilitative conditioning
• Explore the memory loss experienced by notables, such as Ronald Reagan, Ralph Waldo Emerson and E.B. White
• Analyze why many caregivers become clinically depressed
• Explore scientific research into the disease and the cultural issues surrounding research
David Shenk is the author of Data Smog and a former fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University. His articles have been published widely in Harper's, The New Yorker, The Washington Post and many others, and he is an ocassional commentator on NPR's All Things Considered.
Afflicting nearly half of all persons over the age of 85, Alzheimer's disease kills nearly 100,000 Americas a year as it insidiously robs them of their memory and wreaks havoc on the lives of their loved ones. It was once minimized and misunderstood as forgetfulness in the elderly, but Alzheimer's is now at the forefront of many medical and scientific agendas, for as the world's population ages, the disease will kill millions more and touch the lives of virtually everyone.
"The Forgetting" is a scrupulously researched, multilayered analysis of Alzheimer's and its social, medical, and spiritual implications. David Shenk presents us with much more than a detailed explanation of its causes and effects and the search for a cure. He movingly captures the disease's impact on its victims and their families, and he looks back through history, explaining how Alzheimer's most likely afflicted such figures as Jonathan Swift, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William de Kooning. The result is a searing, powerfully engaging account of Alzheimer's disease, offering a grim but sympathetic and ultimately encouraging portrait.
With grace and precision, Shenk (Data Smog), a journalist and occasional NPR commentator, presents a lyric biography of Alzheimer's, "a condition specific to humans and as old as humanity." At one time, doctors thought senility, or dementia, was an inevitable fact of growing older. Now they know that Alzheimer's is a specific, formidable disease that threatens to reach epidemic proportions within the next 50 years. The disease is named for the neurologist who, in 1906, first noticed, in the brain of an autopsied patient, the telltale plaques and tangles that strangle the brain's neurons. Shenk presents a thoughtful and complex rumination on many aspects of Alzheimer's, including anecdotes about the memory loss experienced by Ronald Reagan, Ralph Waldo Emerson and E.B. White. He recounts the tales of caregivers, many of whom become clinically depressed and who, along with physicians, draw an analogy between the developing skills of a child and the decrease in cognitive ability that besets Alzheimer's patients. The author delves deeply into scientific research and explains that though there is as yet no cure, a recently developed vaccine holds great promise for the future. However, he warns, scientific inquiry could be impeded by fierce competition for research dollars. Doctors can now recognize an early stage of "probable Alzheimer's," which means that patients who are slowly sinking into its depths can understand their condition and its destructive path. Shenk movingly recounts a conversation he had with one such patient, who shares interesting ideas for rehabilitative conditioning to slow down his mental deterioration. --Publishers Weekly