In their 2008 book, The Myth of Alzheimer’s: What You Aren’t Being Told about Today’s Most Dreaded Diagnosis, Drs. Peter Whitehouse and Daniel George entertain a radical possibility–that Alzheimer’s disease may be less of a distinct disease than part of the spectrum of brain aging. They discuss the ways in which the lives of people who live with dementia have become medicalized, and the industry that has grown around this process.
Now, a study from UC San Francisco lends some interesting support to this argument. Working with a roundworm model (which has been used in past studies to extrapolate research to humans regarding insulin action, cell aging and cancer genetics) researchers have found that aggregation of similar insoluble proteins occurs in the normally aging brain as well as those of people with neurodegenerative diseases.
Some speculation was made as to the utility of suppressing this protein aggregation as a means of slowing the rate of cognitive decline. However, the more intriguing implication is that we might not be fighting a “disease” so much as age itself.
We all know that people age differently. The same is no doubt true of our brains. While this information shouldn’t keep us from looking for ways to enhance cognition and prevent loss, it also is a call to “normalize” the lives of millions who have been disempowered, overmedicated and stigmatized by our current view of dementia.