Monday, August 09, 2010

Spinal-Fluid Test Is Found to Predict Alzheimer’s

Gina Kolata seems to grow more enthusiastic and less critical with each article she writes about recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's Disease. It is hard not to hope that progress is being made. I do have my concerns, however, about the blessings of knowledge. Advances, such as she describes, in diagnosis, without comparable advances in treatment remind me of poignant episodes in the history of General Paresis of the Insane. This disease, which we now know is caused by syphilis, was, in some ways, the Alzheimer's of the nineteenth century. In an article on General Paresis I wrote that, "General paresis most often struck people (men far more frequently than women) between twenty and forty years of age. Within a matter of months to a few years after the appearance of the first symptoms, it reduced its victims to a state of dementia and profound weakness. No treatment was known, and patients uniformly died." In doing my research I ran across a number of cases where people learned that a loved one would become demented and die from  this incurable disease. As Joel Braslow has shown doctors' attitudes towards these patients, when they were thought to be incurable, were sometimes less than charitable. While I wouldn't argue against people being able to learn what they want about the illnesses that afflict them, I do hope that physicians will be able to help with the emotional aftershocks of such knowledge.

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