An odd thing came across my desk yesterday: a reminder that some people, without meaning to, encourage not only a sense of futility and gloom, but in their dark view of the world, they end up encouraging disease, including Alzheimer’s. In the middle ages, it was common to attribute disease and suffering to god’s will and, after all, who were we to intervene in what god intended? Labor pain, plague, and a myriad sufferings were – again with a sense of futility and gloom – accepted and instead of encouraging our fellow human beings to alleviate suffering, we actively suppressed the compassion that might have brought relief.
Now, we look back on the misguided superstitions of the middle ages as something we have – in our maturity as civilized human beings – outgrown. And yet, we haven’t grown up enough, for while we no longer blame god for our troubles, we are just as eager to ensure that we can’t solve them. In my recent book, The Telomerase Revolution, I suggested that not only could we cure Alzheimer’s disease and that we could make such care affordable, but that it would be more affordable than our current health care, both for the individual and for society. Far from being a treatment for the few, it would be a treatment for all. After all, why pay enormous costs for long-term nursing home care, when we could pay a small cost to be healthy? Far from further dividing us into “two kinds of human beings” (consider that we currently divide the old and the infirm, or those with Alzheimer’s, from the young and healthy), we could provide the gift of sanity and health to all of us, without regard to age, without regard to wealth.
The consequence? A healthier, more compassionate culture.
If this is a utopia, the it’s not the first one. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, prior to the availability of insulin, prior to polio vaccine, each of these ideas were utopian, yet now they are merely reality. Or perhaps not merely, for these utopian medical advances saved lives. Oddly though, we have never lacked for naysayers, who once – as they now do for Alzheimer’s – view these advances with fear and trepidation, seeing not the joy, the love, or the improved health, but the “ruin of their hopes in an utterly alien world”. How does curing polio ruin hopes? How does curing Alzheimer’s give us an alien world? The ruin of hopes, the alien world is the world that Alzheimer’s patients live in now, along with their families who watch the premature loss of their loved ones (of which there are already far too many). Would anyone really want to live in a world without Alzheimer’s? Yes, most of us hope for exactly such a “utopian” world and some of us are working hard to make it a reality. Curing Alzheimer’s is an attainable dream, not a utopia and most certainly not a dystopia.
May you all have a happy new year, and may the coming years soon see a future beyond Alzheimer’s disease.