The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimers

Nursing Book Club

The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimers

More entertainment than education

By Jay Ingram (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)
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Reviewed By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, PHN

The End of Memory is both exhaustive and exhausting. Although he sets out to write  about a disease the media tells us is now an epidemic, author Jay Ingram uses much of the book’s 290 pages to review historical concepts of old age, beginning with Ptolemy’s comparison of “the natural decline of life” to the slow-moving planet Saturn.

Other examples drawn from literature and art include the seven stages of life described by Shakespeare and artist Thomas Cole‘s 1840 painting series Voyage of Life, the final painting of which shows the passenger buffeted by winds and barely hanging on.
Ingram also introduces us to Alois Alzheimer, the Bavarian neuropathologist who described the disease that now bears his name. Although Alzheimer wasn’t the first scientist to notice the brain abnormalities we now associate with the disease, he was the first to correlate them with significant mental decline, findings he reported at a meeting of psychiatrists in Germany in 1906.

Refresher Course

Ingram may be an award-winning science writer and a producer and host of the Canadian Discovery Channel, but, as my husband pointed out, there is no “M.D.” after his name. Judging by this book, his work tends more towards entertainment than education, with Ingram picking and choosing the information he shares with us.

Some chapters, like “Biology of Aging” and “The Brain Fights Back,” are clearly more scholarly than others. My biology and anatomy classes were so long ago that it was definitely beneficial to review how the brain works and what the distinctive tau proteins and beta amyloid plaques and tangles are all about.

Less helpful was finding out, after wading through many pages, that staying in shape and having a good education, a challenging job and good genes are what I need to have a long and productive life free from major memory loss. What am I supposed to do about all that now?

We do learn about Alzheimer’s drugs, how they work and whom they will help. Ingram also gives us some insight into what research is currently being carried out. Especially compelling is a study involving the autopsies of members of a religious order who showed little signs of dementia despite their brains having all the diagnostic characteristics.

Rolling the Dice

Playing with the numbers suggests that the Alzheimer’s “epidemic” seems to be slowing, but that may really depend on where you live and what you eat. The jury is still out.

For anyone who works with an older population or has relatives with dementia, this book could be interesting — or it could be frightening. All in all, I came away with a much better concept of brain resilience, which I am desperately hoping I have, considering I have many of the risk factors Ingram talks about!  

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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