American dementia academic Dr Peter Whitehouse has written a book that calls into question the nature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Along with co-author Daniel George, Dr Whitehouse questions current American approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of AD in The Myth of Alzheimer’s: What You Aren’t Being Told About Today’s Most Dreaded Disease.
Dr Whitehouse has worked as a clinician and educator for 25 years and is the founder of the University Memory and Aging Center in Ohio.
In its most controversial premise, the book argues that AD should not be seen as a disease, but a ‘normal’ part of brain ageing.
“AD cannot be biologically or clinically differentiated from normal aging. There is no one profile of AD that is consistent from person to person,” said Dr Whitehouse.
“Alzheimer’s is a heterogeneous process because it reflects the different way people’s brains age over their lifetimes.”
The book also presents a case for more research spending on prevention and care for people with AD rather than searching for what it describes as an elusive cure.
Alzheimer’s Australia has welcomed the book as a contribution to the “complex and difficult” debate about the nature of dementia but maintains reservations about some of its conclusions based on other reports.
“We appreciate the points it reportedly raises about the complexities in the diagnosis of dementia, the uniqueness of the form it takes in different individuals and the emphasis it places on lifestyle changes to reduce the potential risk of dementia,” Glenn Rees, the organisation’s National Executive Director, told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“Specifically, we welcome the author’s caution in talking about a cure for Alzheimer’s disease given the complexity of the disease and the complexity of the brain.
“We believe the realistic aim for medical research should be on slowing the progression of the disease as well as care.
“I believe that people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families would however have some concerns if the book encouraged the view that Alzheimer’s disease was a ‘normal’ part of ageing.
“We believe that the common perspective from both a sociological and clinical point of view is that it is important to have a label to differentiate the condition from that of normal ageing.”
Mr Rees said that although one in four people aged 85 and over have dementia, there are three in four who do not.