Alzheimer’s: Reimagining the Cognitive Challenges of Aging

A call for more ‘dementia-friendly’ communities…

Peter Whitehouse, MD, PhD, is calling for a 180-flip in the conversation about dementia and aging. A world-renown neurologist as well as author of The Myth of Alzheimer’s, and member of Lifesprk’s Advisory Board, he explains that “the Alzheimer’s label creates fear by separating human beings into two separate categories: those who are still fully alive without the disease, and the unfortunate ‘zombies’ who suffer from it.” <break>

peter-whitehouse-advisoryboardAccording to his debut post last month in Dr. Bill Thomas’s Changing Aging blog, Dr. Whitehouse feels that our current world-view of Alzheimer’s “focuses on treating disease instead of promoting health.

“Improving the quality of care for existing conditions is ignored or downgraded in the search for new drugs and new markets for them. The opportunity costs of miss-focusing our efforts in this way are huge.”

What then do we do, he asks, when scientific solutions don’t emerge as promised?

“The principal hope for people with cognitive challenges,” he stresses, “like Alzheimer’s lies in reinventing community, re-distributing responsibilities for caring for one another, and finding better ways to finance the support structures that are needed to ensure the responsibilities are shared by everyone and not simply ‘expected’ of women.”

So how do we do that? It starts with integrating people with memory problems as much as possible into communities. Check out the award-winning Intergenerational School in Cleveland as a prime example. “A few years ago, the school’s ‘volunteer of the year award’ was given to someone who couldn’t remember that she came to school each week – but why should that matter? In the moment of her relationship with the child, she was very much present.”

Dr. Whitehouse notes the “movement to create ‘dementia-friendly’ communities includes . . . empowering organizations . . . (who) focus on promoting brain health through purposeful activity, good diet and physical exercise.”

He adds that “if we can transform the way we think and act . . .the benefits of reimagining the cognitive challenges of aging will be enormous: understanding that caring relationships are better than drugs; appreciating that everyone faces cognitive challenges and that we all need the same sense of purpose and passion in life regardless of the labels that others attach to us; recognizing that our priorities must shift away from genes and molecules towards improving the environment in which we grow old; and facing up to the need to advance the cause of future generations of older people.

“By doing so,” he concludes, “we can regain some of the humanity that has been lost.”