Life beyond memory

Tomas Hachard in National Post:

Alzheimers-webWhen discussing a disease that is expected to double in prevalence over the next two decades, it is hard to countenance a silver lining; currently Alzheimer’s afflicts 5 percent of Canadians over 65, and the only existing treatment is a series of drugs that, at best, alleviate symptoms for a year. Even what little hope there is for avoiding the disease seems feeble, at best. In The End of Memory, a wide-ranging book on the history of Alzheimer’s, Jay Ingram lists a handful of lifestyle choices that apparently help prevent the disease. Exercise and education are two—the most proven. Learning a second language is another.And then there’s “conscientiousness,” an umbrella term, Ingram explains, for goal setting, determination, efficiency, organization, thoroughness, self-discipline, and reliability. According to some studies, the more we exhibit these traits, the less susceptible we are to Alzheimer’s. A responsible life, it seems, might actually afford us a peaceful death.

…The underlying reality of their topic, however, brings an unavoidable bleakness, and not just because of the currently far-off hopes for a cure. Scientists generally agree today that Alzheimer’s differs from normal aging. But precisely what distinguishes the two is still unclear. However unlikely a conclusion it is at this point, Peter Whitehouse’s suggestion that “in some sense we would all get Alzheimer’s if we live long enough”—posited in his 2008 book The Myth of Alzheimer’s—is still with us and signals an important fact about the disease: it’s impossible to detach our fear of it from our more general anxieties about growing old.

More here.