Creating Promising Futures Through Social Construction
Director Integrative Studies,
Department of Neurology, Case Western Reserve University
Professor of Neurology, Cognitive Science, Psychiatry, Neuroscience,
Psychology, Nursing, Organizational Behavior and History
University Memory and Aging Center
University Hospitals of Cleveland
Room 357C, Fairhill Center
12200 Fairhill Road
Cleveland, OH 44120
Assistant: Julia Rajcan 216-844-6438
Peter Whitehouse, MD, PhD (Psychology) and MA (Bioethics) trained at Brown and Johns Hopkins Universities. He is currently a Professor at Case Western Reserve University and one of the best known Alzheimer's experts in the world. A geriatric neurologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and "global" bioethicist, Dr. Whitehouse is the founder of the University Alzheimer Center (now the University Memory and Aging Center) at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center. His pioneering, internationally-recognized work led to an understanding of how the brain is affected by what he used to call Alzheimer's disease, and to the development of current drugs for the condition, and his most recent work includes ethics, integrative health care, and quality of life. Dr. Whitehouse's clinical practice is built around the power of stories to assist those with aging associated cognitive challenges. He is a founder with his wife of The Intergenerational School - an innovative, successful urban public school in Cleveland.
Books by Dr. Whitehouse: http://www.themythofalzheimers.com/authors.html#story
I have spent my life within the scientific, political, economic, and social institutions of the AD field-universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies-studying and treating human aging and disease. Upon the 100th anniversary of the first case of Alzheimer's, I am ready to challenge the power that the mainstream "Alzheimer's disease" myth has over us, helping people see what I have seen and to think critically about the evolution in thought that has occurred over the past several decades, which has shaped the way we see our aging bodies and minds and the way we act towards them. I want to spread a story of brain aging that can be a starting point for helping us better cope with and prepare for the travails of cognitive decline.
For nearly twenty-five years, I have served as a trusted clinician and leader in the Alzheimer's field, where I have helped international Alzheimer's organizations and pharmaceutical companies shape the rules, guidelines, diagnostic categories, and accepted clinical approaches to Alzheimer's disease. Discoveries that I made as a researcher at Johns Hopkins in the 1980s led to the development of the first drugs for Alzheimer's, and I have since consulted for numerous pharmaceutical companies. My experiences and relationships with other colleagues have endowed me with some influence and power and have enabled me to become what the science community calls a "thought leader" (or KOL - "key opinion leader")-one who guides our conventional thinking about a particular condition.
In the beginning of my career, at a time when no medicines had been approved specifically for Alzheimer's and companies were unsure about how to proceed in drug development, the pharmaceutical industry reached out to me and listened to my thoughts and opinions about treating persons with memory challenges. Once drugs made their way to the market in the 1990s the relationship shifted. Rather than being interested in having my thoughts influence their views, it seemed as if industry wanted to change my mind and convince me that their drugs were worth giving to my patients. Drugs also changed the political scene. Alzheimer's organizations seized upon the pharmacological movement and developed business plans that emphasized the anguish of aging and over-promised the possibility of achieving a cure.
This focus on biological, reductionist approaches to brain aging across our society has shifted the whole dynamic of the field away from caring for the aging patient and his family and towards drugs as the primary means of ensuring the quality of his life. Too often, aging patients and their families leave the doctor's office with little more than a pill prescription (often encompassing several pills) and fear generated by the Alzheimer's myth, knowing little about how to effectively care for the condition.
We must begin to transform our approach to brain aging. No longer can we safely assume that the march of progress in the "War against AD" is moving at the hoped for speed or direction; no longer can we maintain the mythical illusion that AD is a battle against a specific singular disease that we will eventually "win"; no longer can we keep looking at aging persons, however embattled, as somehow "diseased" and "other". Defining brain aging as a disease and then trying to cure it is at its root unscientific and misguided. In short, Alzheimer's is a 100-year old myth that is over the hill. The entire scientific, technological, and political framework for aging needs to be reassessed sensitive and ethical way to better serve patients and families in order to help people maximize their quality of life as they move along the path of cognitive aging. That's why my co-author and I have written The Myth of Alzheimer's and created this website: to provide a community space where we can begin to re-imagine these new approaches to brain aging.