A powerfully engaging, scrupulously researched, and deeply empathetic narrative of the history of Alzheimer’s disease, how it affects us, and the search for a cure.
Afflicting nearly half of all people over the age of 85, Alzheimer’s disease kills nearly 100,000 Americans 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 touch the lives of virtually everyone. David Shenk 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 Willem de Kooning. The result is a searing and graceful account of Alzheimer’s disease, offering a sobering, compassionate, and ultimately encouraging portrait.
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.
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Excellent and entertaining
I was more than pleasantly surprised by this book. It's simple and straightforward. The facts are laid out and the insight makes this terrible disease more comprehensible. I have read and re-read it. It's that good.