Thursday, 13 March 2014

What's in a name?

The Alzheimer's Society seems to be renaming itself 'Alzheimer's Society' (i.e. dropping the definite article). Of course they may do what they like with their own name but it may not catch on.

An employee of AS was recently interviewed on the BBC and was introduced using the new name.  He then used the new name, but it's obviously unnatural, even to an employee, and later he used the old name.  When the interview finished, the presenter who'd introduced him reverted to the old name herself.

In any case, I am puzzled as to why Alois Alzheimer's name is still attached to the disease.  He was the first person to diagnose a case of what we would now call early/young onset Alzheimer's Disase.  Interestingly, he distinguished the disease from 'pre-senile dementia', indicating that dementia was recognised as a common problem as people got older but previously not recognised properly in younger people.

Alzheimer examined the brain of his patient post-mortem and sketched pictures of the plaques and tangles.  Decades later these were recognised as more or less identical to the plaques and tangles seen when the brains of elderly senile patients were examined.  It was decided they had the same disease.

Yet as time has passed it's become clearer that there are many, many, diseases that cause dementia.  Some of them are similar to each other and some of them are not. In general public discussion 'dementia' and 'Alzheimer's disease' are used interchangeably which is not helpful.

Equally, it is assumed that the plaques and tangles are always a marker of the disease and a great deal of research has been devoted to trying to remove the plaques and tangles.

Yet as the not-famous-enough nuns study shows some people have the plaques and tangles but don't have dementia and some people have dementia but do not have significant plaques and tangles.

It's possible that the emphasis of much research has been misplaced and that other possible research areas are being overlooked.

So how helpful is it that Alzheimer's name is still so well-known?

And to end where we began, it's probably time for the Alzheimer's Society to adopt a more sensible name.  Or, better still, lead a move towards the amalgamation of the various dementia charities.  One national dementia charity could become very influential.

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