Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Forgetting - David Shenk

Subtitle: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic

I have pursued learning about aging in general and dementia in particular since my Nana died with dementia after too many years in a nursing home.  This book weaves real life anecdotes and history with facts as they stood in 2002, twelve years ago.  The author takes us through each stage of the disease, describing the characteristic behavior and loss of functions.

It confirmed what I had learned - Alzheimer's can't be diagnosed definitively without an autopsy. It described the mini-memory quiz called the Mini Mental Sate Examination (MMSE) as well as the Clock Test that pinpoints incipient dementia.

I thought one interesting suggestion was to consider rehabilitation for people with Alzheimer's, a proposal from a victim of the disease, that suggested the patient be encouraged to "control what you can control, communicate, express your feelings, look death in the face, find meaningful life-tasks and do them, search out and challenge dysfunctional negative thoughts".

It describes the discovery of a gene called ApoE, on chromosome 19, at the time the only verified genetic discovery related to the more common form of the disease.  I've gotten my DNA for genealogical purposes but I'm not ready to take the step of having it analyzed for any potential diseases.

An interesting part discusses that our rates of survival into old age due to advances in medical science has created a "prolongation of morbidity" and the revelation of "hidden diseases" like Alzheimer's that primarily occur in very old age and are also hidden from the forces of natural selection since it occurs when the person is no longer able to reproduce.

There's a whole chapter on "things to avoid", none of which are guaranteed to prevent the disease but may postpone it to a later age.

I thought the book a great summary of the disease, its history and progression.  I wish there was a new volume that brought the research up to date.

Published:  2001, 2002  Read: March 2015  Genre: Science

ISBN: 9 780385498388

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