In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli

I have Rebecca at Bookish Beck to thank for bringing this book to my attention. I read about it on her Top 10 Nonfiction Reads of 2017.

I knew Alzheimer’s was somewhat mysterious, but I had no idea it was so interesting.

Jebelli covers all the bases in this up-to-date book; the original discovery of Alzheimer’s as a distinct disease, the research that has led to our understanding of the condition now, the possible preventative measures we can take against the condition, the experiments and discoveries that have been made and are being made right now to try to come up with new and better treatments for patients with Alzheimer’s. And woven in with all this information are some personal stories of patients and their families. The author, himself, has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s through his grandfather.

Some of the things I learned:

  • Alzheimer’s was first “discovered” in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer after performing an autopsy on the brain of a 56-year-old patient.
  • Once upon a time, dementia and other such conditions used to be treated by “trepanation“, drilling holes into the skull to release evil spirits!
  • “Scientists are not absolutely sure what causes Alzheimer’s but plaques and tangles are prime suspects in cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer brain.” The plaques and tangles tend to start out in the learning and memory area of the brain, then spread out from there.
  • The first idea for Alzheimer’s treatment came from the deadly toxin, Sarin, which was used to kill approximately 5000 people near the end of the Iran-Iraq war. March 16, 1988. A neuroscientist named William Summers was interested in Tacrine, which acted on neurotransmitters in the brain in the same way. His research eventually led to the drug now used to treat Alzheimer’s, Aricept.  Aricept is used to improve cognition in the patient, but does not prevent progress of the disease.
  • Drug candidates for Alzheimer’s have had a 99.6% failure rate.
  • Our genome is 99% identical to that of a mouse. Makes you think for a minute, doesn’t it?
  • “In a single day, human blood travels through 96,000 kilometres of capillaries, veins and arteries – enough to encircle the globe four times.”
  • One of the first things Alzheimer’s patients may experience is “anosmia“, the partial or near total loss of smell.
  • In Columbia, home to the largest population of Alzheimer’s victims on the planet, Alzheimer’s is still stigmatized and referred to as “La Bobera”, which means “the foolishness”.
  • One in three of us will develop Alzheimer’s. “If things continue this way, epidemiologists estimate that the total number of Alzheimer’s cases will double every twenty years, making dementia the next global pandemic.”
  • Eat turmeric… just in case. (It contains curcumin, which is thought to improve the cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.)

The best thing about this book is that it’s full of hope. You would not believe the research and experiments and ideas that are going on around the world to get to the bottom of this disease. It’s just a matter of time.

In Pursuit of Memory includes a list of resources for families, carers and patients.

… Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects families. Its symptoms engulf those around it, causing emotional turmoil for family members who can do nothing but watch while their loved ones – hearts still pumping, breath still flowing, eyes still open – slowly slip away forever.


32 thoughts on “In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’m glad you sought out this book and found it interesting! I agree, it was full of fascinating facts, and surprisingly optimistic about all the different research directions there are out there.

  2. Brian says:

    You can take curcumin in pill form. Tumeric has only 3% curcumin. Curcumin has all kinds of health benefits besides helping with Alzheimer’s.

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I’m glad that this book left you with a sense of optimism. I have Alzheimer’s/dementia in my family (both my grandmothers) so I am simultaneously nervous/in denial about the possibility. But I should take a look at this and see what else I can do to be proactive!

  4. annelogan17 says:

    Turmeric-got it! And not surprised that this disease will be our next pandemic, we really need to figure out how we’re going to deal with the elderly, etc. once the baby boomers age out of their homes…

  5. FictionFan says:

    Alzheimer’s and dementia are probably my greatest fears. My mother began to lose her mental faculties in the last couple of years of her (long) life and it was hard to deal with, practically and emotionally. I must admit I avoid reading about these diseases if I can because it brings back tough memories, but I do hope they find some kind of treatment soon. Not to be pessimistic, but they’ve been saying a breakthrough is just over the horizon for about twenty years now…

    • Naomi says:

      That’s one of the things the book touhes on… what a long road it’s been with so little progress in the treatment department. But a LOT of progress in the research, by the sounds of it. And many people dedicated to finding better treatment. That’s the hopeful part, I guess.
      I can totally understand why you might want to avoid this topic!

  6. Grab the Lapels says:

    I like you listed facts in your review. It gave me a lot to think about! One thing I didn’t know is that there are “tangles.” I read a graphic memoir about Alzheimer’s disease called Tangles, but I think the word refers to the mother’s and daughter’s hair being really curly and tangled. Also, how things can get tangled up when dealing with a mother who has Alzheimer’s. It was a great book:

    • Naomi says:

      “Tangles” does sound good! I think it would have me in tears, too, though. The good thing about reading about Alzheimer’s in nonficiton is that the emotional element isn’t nearly as strong. I’ll probably add Tangles to my list anyway, ’cause I’m a fan of the emotional stuff. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. buriedinprint says:

    I second Melanie’s rec for Tangles and it’s got all the feels, not just the sadness (which is handled delicately): a great read to add to your list of comics to read (you know that list, right?!). Drinking turmeric in what is sometimes called “Golden Milk” is actually really awesome, like a milky tea with warming spices, which is exceptionally lovely during winter afternoons and evenings when the sun is heading down. (I use either almond milk or cashew milk for mine.) It has a bajillion healing properties! I’m curious whether there is any mention in this book of the relationship with the microbiome in regards to dementia, but maybe I’ll have to take a look to see!

    • Naomi says:

      Golden milk sounds better than the tea I have that contains ginger and turmeric. I have that to help with my migraines, though, so golden milk would have to be an addition rather than a substitution.

      The only thing I can think of regarding the microbiome is the section on diet, which just reiterates what we all know – we are what we eat, eat healthy foods, etc. I can’t remember now how much more specific it got.

      • buriedinprint says:

        I have the tea as well and it serves a purpose but this really does feel completely different. You know how much I love chocolate, so the fact that this drink (especially when one adds a bit of coconut oil/butter) substitutes for chocolate on some evenings, will give you an idea how much more enjoyable this is!

  8. The Cue Card says:

    I’m glad this book is hopeful — I hope they can find a cure within my lifetime — I’m worried about relatives. I wonder why Colombia has the largest population of people with Alzheimer’s? Hmm

    • Naomi says:

      I hope so, too!

      Hmm… the luck of the draw? There are also pockets of populations in both Iceland and India that very rarely have the disease.

  9. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Holy hell, one in THREE of us? Is that one in three of us inevitably, or one in three of us WOULD likely develop it if we survived to the correct age? Cause if it’s the first one, that is extreeeeeemely troubling.

  10. Bina says:

    What an excellent read and I’m glad it left you feeling a bit optimistic! I read the plaques hypothesis, too, and also I think it’s directly connected to most all other illnesses on the rise. But that doesn’t make a solution easier. Yay, I take turmeric every day 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Plaques were shown to be present in all ageing brains, but more so in people with Alzheimer’s. One approach is to see if they can be prevented, but they haven’t gotten too far with that yet, I don’t think.
      It’s nice to see you! 🙂

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