I can’t walk down the street anymore without being assailed by evidence that we live in a toxic world and that, healthy though we may be at the moment, there is always something lurking around the corner.
Like Alzheimer’s. Coming out of Starbucks today I saw a new building for assisted living going up. Right next to the smiling couple on a banner covering the chain link fence was the news that two – not one, but two! – floors would be devoted to memory care. I’ve heard Alzheimer’s called the autism of adulthood, which means that fewer and fewer of us are going to get out of this world with our minds intact. According to the Alzheimer’s Association:
“By 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40 percent increase from the 5.1 million age 65 and older affected in 2015.” (By the way, the group’s slogan, “the brains behind saving yours,” does nothing to make me think they are going to get a grip on this disease anytime soon. Yuck!)
Anyone who reads this blog already knows the damage inflicted on a generation and a half – and counting – by the autism epidemic. We hear the latest numbers are coming out later this month, but whether it’s 1 in 68, or 1 in 30 boys, or 1 in 50 based on the CDC’s own phone survey of parents of kids 6 to 17 in 2011-2012, or 1 in 25 as Andy Wakefield says it really is right now, or the 1 in 2 that MIT professor predicted for a couple of decades from now – well, it’s way too much.
Add ADHD on top of that, along with declining academic proficiency, asthma, allergies and so on. And that’s just the A’s, and that’s just the kids.
It appears the Seven Ages of Man that Shakespeare described have been reduced to a list of age-appropriate disabilities – all of it attended to by the only flourishing sector of the economy at the moment, health care.
Still, a ghastly end awaits an awful lot of us after all this lovely health treatment. Make it past 85 and you’ll have a one in three chance of having Alzheimer’s. One in nine of those over 65 (which I will be next year) have it.
I’m sure you’ve seen those ads, in which smiling, slow-motion couples like the ones on the building across from Starbucks convey how happy they are now that their loved one’s decline has imperceptibly slowed due to the latest miracle drug (which, the ads feel compelled to say, don’t change the outcome or progression of the disease).
It’s already being lost to history, but worth remembering even so that Alzheimer’s originally meant premature mental disability. It was a rare and striking loss of faculties well before the onset of age-related dementia, which was as well-known then as it is now. German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer identified the first case in a 50-year-old woman in 1901. If you read the mainstream narratives, the fearsome spread of the disease is all due to living longer, diagnosis getting better, genes going wrong, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
But as someone who’s done a lot of research about modern diseases, I see a pattern in a disease first being identified in 1901 – and in Germany, no less. This looks like an industrial age illness of toxic exposure to me, along with other ailments like Parkinson’s, MS, hysteria and other mental illness, and so many other degenerative diseases.
It’s also an epidemic. WBUR reported a study in the journal Neurology “confirmed what clinicians and researchers have long assumed: Alzheimer’s deaths have been greatly underreported.
“The research found that 500,000 people die each year from Alzheimer’s — more than five times the number most recently reported by the CDC.
“That makes Alzheimer’s the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. Currently the CDC ranks Alzheimer’s sixth as a cause of mortality, with 84,000 deaths reported on death certificates.”
Somehow, thinking about those two floors of memory care, I didn’t doubt it at all.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.