If someone says they have the cure for Alzheimer’s…

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…it’s probably too good to be true. Here’s why:

We don’t even know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. I was talking about this with a well-known neuropsychologist and dementia expert just the other day. This doctor’s theory is actually that the beta-amyloid in the brain is a marker of the disease, not an actual cause. So, all of the “treatments” for Alzheimer’s that treat amyloid may be in vain.

Here’s the background: much of the research happening today is about trying to rid the body of extra amyloid, a protein that builds up and aggregates in the brain when someone has Alzheimer’s. However, we don’t know—and still haven’t been able to tell—if that buildup causes the disease or is just an aftereffect, like a scar, of the disease. 

I really started thinking about this after seeing the book, “The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline” on the market. This book, written by a physician named Dale Bredensen, details how you can change your diet and you activity level to “reverse” Alzheimer’s. People are buying this book and enrolling (and spending thousands) to be a part of his program. One of the many problems is this: his original case study was just that, a case study. He used 10 participants, and concluded that 9 of them got better. 10 people is not nearly enough to call something a success. 

Really, though, my issue with it is not so much about the amount of people he used, or anything else he’s doing: it’s that he is stating he found a cure for a disease which we don’t even know the cause of yet.

We also aren’t spending much time on other dementias. Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia, and, while it’s the most common, what about the other types? Lewy Body? Vascular? Frontotemporal Lobar Diseases? We’ve poured money and research into AD, and have kind of forgotten about the others. 

In all honesty, I didn’t read the book. And I don’t plan on it. I have a problem giving money to a “cause” that may not have any actual positive effect. I also don’t like the jargon on the back of the book that suggests it’s YOUR fault if you get Alzheimer’s. Almost as though, if people just lived better and ate better, there’d be no way they’d get Alzheimer’s. I’ll tell you what: some of the healthiest, smartest, most-engaged-in-life people that I know have dementia. So, I don’t like that theory.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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