Lillian Wilson

A Tattoo On My Brain by Dr. Daniel Gibbs

‘A Tattoo On My Brain’ — a first-hand experience of identifying and preventing Alzheimer's in the early stages from a renowned neurologist.

A Tattoo On My Brain

The book has gotten 4.38 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

“As a neurologist with early-stage Alzheimer's, Dr. Daniel Gibbs offers a uniquely insightful, candid, and compassionate view from both seats. ’A Tattoo on my Brain’ is essential reading for any family living with an Alzheimer's diagnosis.” 
– Lisa Genova, New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting

Alzheimer’s disease affects 50 million people worldwide. The biggest issue about this disease is that it can be developing unrecognisable for 10-15 years.

Dr. Daniel Gibbs is one of the 50 million Alzheimer’s patients. The difference between his situation and those of many Alzheimer’s patients is that he used to be a neurologist, caring for individuals who now suffer from the very disease that is afflicting him. In this review we will look at the memoir ’A Tattoo On My Brain’, the story of a neurologist who suspected he had Alzheimer’s several years before receiving an official diagnosis and shares his methods of detecting and managing the disease.

Author’s background

Daniel Gibbs, the author of ‘A Tattoo on My Brain’, is a retired neurologist based in Portland, Oregon. With twenty-five years of experience in the field, he has dedicated his career to caring for patients, including those with dementia.

His firsthand knowledge and expertise in neurology provide him with a unique perspective on Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Gibbs’s credibility as an author stems from his extensive experience as a neurologist, particularly in treating patients with dementia.

Dr. Gibbs references other published works such as ‘This Is Your Brain on Music’ by Levitin and sources like JAMA Neurology, Practical Neurology, and The Neurology of Olfaction. These references indicate that he has drawn upon relevant and reliable sources to inform his writing and strengthen the credibility of his book.

What is the book about?

A Tattoo On My Brain’ is a compelling and unique book written by Dr. Daniel Gibbs who is sharing his personal journey with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike most patients, Dr. Gibbs suspected he had Alzheimer’s for years before receiving an official diagnosis through genetic testing. This memoir and scientific journal blend clinical knowledge gained from years of caring for dementia patients with his own firsthand experience of the disease.

The book delves into the moment Dr. Gibbs discovers his genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s and follows his journey as he notices early symptoms and eventually receives an official diagnosis. It explores his experiences, the science behind lifestyle changes and drug trials he participates in, and his advocacy for improved early recognition and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Gibbs’ perspective as both a medical professional and a patient provides a unique insight into the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s.

Readers will be captivated by Dr. Gibbs’ storytelling, find inspiration in his resilience, and gain valuable knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of early recognition and management. ‘A Tattoo On My Brain’ prompts reflection on our own lives, encouraging us to make positive changes and take proactive steps to safeguard our cognitive health.

The list of contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Prologue
  • 1 Beacon Rock
  • 2 Forewarned and Forearmed
  • 3 The Smell of Baking Bread
  • 4 Sneak Preview
  • 5 A Stubborn Puzzle
  • 6 The Locked Box and the Family Tree
  • 7 The Measure of Memory
  • 8 Orcas Nonetheless
  • 9 My Brain, My Self
  • 10 The Reveal
  • 11 Cognitive Reserve and Resiliency: Brain Cells in the Bank
  • 12 My Experimental Life
  • 13 When ARIA Is More than an Operatic Solo
  • 14 My Experiential Life: Living with Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
  • 15 Madeleines, Music and African Doves
  • 16 It’s Only Scary If You Look Down
  • 17 Beyond DNA: Family History Reconsidered
  • 18 News at 5: Retired Neurologist Battles Alzheimer’s
  • 19 The Forest, the Trees and the Ground Beneath My Feet
  • 20 What’s in a Name? Alzheimer’s Reimagined
  • 21 A Meaningful Outcome
  • Epilogue: The Writing Life
  • Appendix: The MIND Diet Basics
  • Resources
  • Index

Key takeaways from the book ‘A Tattoo On My Brain’

1Early detection is not only crucial but possible

According to the book ‘A Tattoo on My Brain’, early detection of Alzheimer’s is crucial as the disease process starts ten to twenty years before there are any cognitive symptoms or signs of dementia.

The author presents the research using biomarkers that have revealed that the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, such as the formation of plaques in the brain, can begin up to twenty years before any cognitive symptoms or signs of dementia appear. This understanding has prompted the idea that effective treatments targeting the disease should ideally be initiated in the early stages, possibly even before symptoms manifest.

Dr. Gibbs suggests that anyone with a family history or any suspicion of the disease undergo tests that detect the progression of the disease. These tests include analyzing spinal fluid for the presence of amyloid and abnormal tau proteins, which are associated with plaques and tangles, respectively. Additionally, PET scans can visualize the location of these proteins in the brain, and there may soon be blood tests for amyloid and tau as well.

2The more exercises – the better

Exercise plays a significant role in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s. Exercise has long-term benefits in slowing cognitive decline, reducing the rate of brain shrinkage related to amyloid, and has a modest and transitory acute effect on cognitive function. Even modest levels of exercise are helpful, but there does seem to be a dose-response effect: more activity is more effective than less activity.

The sooner the exercise regimen is started, the more positive effect it will likely have. In the later stages of dementia, exercise may improve mobility, but it doesn’t seem to improve cognition. For those with early-stage disease, those with a family history or those with known positive APOE-4 carrier status, it is especially important to start a regular exercise program. Starting it at earlier ages, in the forties if possible, is better than waiting until the sixties or seventies.

3Saying socially and intellectually engaged is one of the keys to Alzheimer’s prevention

Evidence-based science has found that simple lifestyle choices about social and intellectual activity are beneficial for brain health and resilience. The book suggests that lifestyle and behavioural interventions can stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the recommended social and intellectual activities include volunteering, leisure activities, writing, journal keeping, and language testing.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Feels personal and relatable as it is backed by the author’s experience and not only scientific research and studies.

  • Provides tried and tested pieces of advice on Alzheimer’s management, such as daily exercise, a healthy sleep schedule and a Mediterranean or modified Mediterranean diet.

  • Addresses the problem of lack of methods for early-stage detection.


  • As the book delves into personal experiences and the challenges faced by individuals with Alzheimer’s, it can evoke emotions of sadness, especially for those who have personal connections or experiences with the disease.

Best quotes from ‘A Tattoo on My Brain’

“Most Alzheimer's patients are diagnosed when symptoms of the disease show up in their behavior or cognitive functioning – they may seem noticeably off to those who know them or to themselves. That's typically around the time that the damage to brain cells has become moderate to severe. I found mine much earlier because I went looking for it.“ 
“I've made some simple lifestyle choices about diet, exercise and social and intellectual activity that evidence-based science has found beneficial for brain health and resilience.“ 
“If I couldn't read, I couldn't safely navigate these ordinary activities alone.“

Final takeaway

A Tattoo On My Brain’ is a powerful and informative book that not only educates but also prompts readers to reflect on their own lives and make positive changes.

It is highly recommended for anyone with a family history of neurodegenerative disease or individuals who have loved ones currently battling Alzheimer’s. By sharing his personal journey and advocating for change, Dr. Gibbs offers hope and guidance in the face of a growing global health crisis.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘A Tattoo on My Brain’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in Kindle, paperback, and audio versions, so you are free to choose the format that suits you best.

Healthypedia FAQ

‘A Tattoo on My Brain‘ is a memoir by Dr. Daniel Gibbs about his personal journey with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. It explores his experiences, lifestyle changes, and advocacy for improved early recognition and diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

Unlike many books on Alzheimer's, ‘A Tattoo on My Brain‘ combines personal narrative with scientific knowledge. Dr. Gibbs, with his background as a neurologist, blends his firsthand experience with clinical expertise. This unique perspective offers readers a comprehensive understanding of the disease, its impact, and potential strategies for coping and managing its progression.

‘A Tattoo on My Brain‘ is highly recommended for a wide range of readers beyond those directly impacted by Alzheimer's. Neurologists, researchers, caregivers, and professionals in the healthcare field will gain valuable insights and knowledge from Dr. Gibbs' personal and professional experiences. Additionally, policymakers, government agencies, and pharmaceutical industry leaders can benefit from the book's emphasis on the need for collective advancements, increased research funding, and improved early recognition and diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases.

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