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Winner of the 2002 BMA Popular Medicine Book Prize: This is a haunting literary and scientific examination of Alzheimer’s disease and the race to find a cure.
‘A truly remarkable book – the definitive work on Alzheimer’s, both in social and medical terms, “The Forgetting” is incisive, humane, never ponderous, full of dry humour and brilliantly written with quiet, unpretentious authority. As a layman with personal experience of “caring” for an Alzheimer’s sufferer I am well aware of the stages of the disease and its prognosis and ending. Shenk is excellent on all these, and in his reflections on memory and the individual, and the individual’s response to the progress of the disease. I can’t imagine a book on Alzheimer’s being better researched and understood, or presented with greater sympathy.’ John Bayley
In 1906 Alois Alzheimer dissected and examined the cerebral cortex of Auguste D’s brain and became the first scientist in medical history to link a specific brain pathology to behavioural changes. The disease named after him, turns otherwise active and healthy people into living ghosts. It is a rare condition for those in their 40s and 50s but 10% of the 65+ population suffers from it and 50% of the 85+. It is longevity’s revenge and as the baby boom generation drifts into its elderly years the number of Alzheimer’s victims is expected to quadruple, making it the fastest-growing disease in developed countries.
As Adam Phillips writes in his foreword ‘This remarkable book will radically change our notions of looking after people and our assumptions about independence. Out of fear of mortality we have idealised health and youth and competence. “The Forgetting” reminds us among many other things that there is more to life than that.’
Shenk’s history of Alzheimer’s is both poignant and scientific, grounded by the fundamental belief that memory forms the basis of our selves, our souls, and the meaning in our lives.
‘The Forgetting is completely absorbing, fascinating, the best of writing, thought-provoking, socially important and imperative to read, with the narrative pull of a well-written murder mystery.’ Amy Tan
‘It’s not only great science writing – it takes a terrifying disease that will affect us all, directly or indirectly, as we grow older, and gives it a meaning and a human face.’ Mark Haddon, Books of the Year, Guardian
‘Lucid and often moving…Shenk is a wonderful writer on science. His prose zings along.’ Independent
‘A startling book, a mixture of history, science, politics and compelling case studies’ Daily Telegraph
About the author
David Shenk is the author of Data Smog and a book of essays entitled The End of Patience. He has written for many American newspapers and journals. Shenk was a 1995-1996 Freedom Forum Fellow and a 1998 US-Japan Fellow. He lives in Brooklyn.
With grace and precision, Shenk (Data Song), a journalistand 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.