Keohane, K., Grace, V. What is ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’? The ‘Auguste D’ Case Re-opened, Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry Volume 43, Issue 2, 15 June 2019, Pages 336-359
What is Alzheimer’s: an organic, neuropathological psychiatric disease, caused by plaques and tangles in aging brains or/and an existential condition affecting the minds of aging persons experiencing disconnection from meaning-bearing networks of social relations? Reviewing current research and revisiting Alzheimer’s original case of ‘Auguste D’ this paper offers an historical–sociological genealogy that raises fundamental questions of causality, and even of the ontological status of Alzheimer’s and the dementia reputed to it as a disease entity. Drawing on Kuhn’s notion of ‘science as usual’ and Foucault’s notion of the discursive formation of ‘regimes of truth’, our analysis seeks to understand how a sole medical focus on either bio-markers of neurological disease or genetic association was accomplished in the absence of sufficient and robust evidence. To counter the exclusion of psychosocial considerations, this paper offers two original hypotheses on the iconic case of ‘Auguste D’, taking into account the social milieu in which she lived and the specific circumstances of her life. It goes on to suggest the way in which the contemporary socio-cultural context may have dementiagenic tendencies. This research supports Gaines and Whitehouse’s argument that research into the phenomenon and symptoms of Alzheimer’s should focus on extracorporal and psychosocial factors.