Lillian Wilson

The Problem of Alzheimer’s by Jason Karlawish

The Problem of Alzheimer's is a comprehensive and empathetic exploration of the disease's history, political challenges, and scientific progress, offering valuable insights for a wide range of readers.

The Problem of Alzheimer's

The book has received 4.08 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

Alzheimer’s disease poses a major challenge to modern medicine and healthcare fields. Despite substantial efforts and resources invested in finding effective treatments, there is still no cure in sight. This has created an urgent situation for both the medical community and society as a whole, affecting many individuals and families.

In response to this urgent issue, this review examines a compelling book that tackles the puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease head-on. The book in question, titled The Problem of Alzheimer’s, takes a deep dive into this crisis, providing readers with an insightful and empathetic exploration of a disease that has long resisted a definitive solution.

Author’s background

Jason Karlawish is a medical practitioner and author who specialises in exploring subjects that bridge the fields of bioethics, ageing, and neuroscience.

Jason Karlawish (r)

He is the author of the book Open Wound: The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont, and his articles have been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, he holds the position of Professor in Medicine, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, as well as Neurology, at the University of Pennsylvania.

What is the book about?

The Problem of Alzheimer’s by Jason Karlawish is a thought-provoking book that delves into the multifaceted challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease. The book is structured into four parts, each addressing a distinct aspect of this pressing issue, including:

  • Challenges in translating diagnoses to patients and families

  • Healthcare system implications

  • The 20th century perspective on Alzheimer’s

  • Tragedy of concealment and lack of treatment

  • Opportunities to address the Alzheimer’s crisis

  • Scientific advances in Alzheimer’s care

  • Early diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs

Overall, The Problem of Alzheimer’s challenges readers to understand the disease’s complex history, the potential for medical advancements, and the necessity of a broader societal response to tackle Alzheimer’s disease effectively. It sheds light on the far-reaching impact of the condition and calls for a concerted effort to address this pressing issue.

Table of contents

  • Introduction: The Disease of the Century
  • Part 1: Alzheimer’s Unbound
  • 1. A Peculiar Disease of the Cerebral Cortex
  • 2. No One Says No to Len Kurland
  • 3. Accurate but Not Presumptuous
  • 4. The Olympics of Pharmacokinetics
  • 5. The Republic of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • 6. A Young Man in a Hurry
  • 7. How Do You Cast a Broken Brain?
  • Part 2: The Birth of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • 8. The Old Woman in the Tower
  • 9. Alois Alzheimer: An Unwitting Revolutionary
  • 10. Oblivion, or War and Madness
  • 11. The Essay Heard Round the World
  • 12. A Self-Help Group for the Self-Made Man
  • 13. A Crisis in the Family
  • 14. The Last Casualties of the Cold War
  • 15. Hope in a Pill
  • Part 3: Living Well in the House of Alzheimer’s
  • 16. The Extraordinary Ordinary
  • 17. A Correction
  • 18. Discernment
  • 19. Some Things to Watch Over Us
  • 20. Not (Legally) Dead Yet
  • 21. Targeting Amyloid
  • 22. Hope in a Plan
  • Part 4: Humanitarian Problem
  • 23. Something Must Be Working
  • 24. Existential Dread
  • 25. Caring for Each Other
  • 26. The Worlds We Create
  • 27. The Worlds We End
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
  • Also by Jason Karlawish
  • About the Author
  • Copyright

Three key takeaways from The Problem of Alzheimer’s

1Alzheimer’s disease prevalence and recognition

The book sheds light on how Alzheimer’s disease transitioned from being a seemingly rare condition to a widespread crisis. Part of this shift is attributed to an increase in cases due to longer lifespans, as people used to succumb to other diseases before developing Alzheimer’s. Additionally, for a long time, Alzheimer’s was not recognised as a distinct disease; instead, it was dismissed as senility or old age. The breakthrough made by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in identifying physical brain abnormalities associated with the disease was a pivotal moment in acknowledging it as a legitimate medical condition.

2Politics and funding challenges

Politics played a significant role in the Alzheimer’s crisis. Despite the rise of Alzheimer’s associations to raise awareness and advocate for research funding, there were political hurdles. Congress traditionally allocated funds for medical research but resisted addressing ‘diseases of the month.’ Additionally, the post-Cold War era in the United States saw opposition to anything that resembled socialism, including comprehensive long-term care for Alzheimer’s patients. This lack of political will left families grappling with the financial burdens of Alzheimer’s care.

3Alzheimer’s treatment challenges

Alzheimer’s has proven resistant to a quick-fix treatment, and the book discusses the history of scientific efforts to combat the disease. Researchers discovered amyloid and developed brain scans to detect it, explored genetic testing, and pursued immunotherapy drugs, but these developments led to mixed results and, in some cases, disappointment. While some drugs provide limited relief, there is still no cure. The book suggests that living well with Alzheimer’s largely involves supportive care, focusing on safety and engagement, including technologies to locate wandering individuals and creating opportunities for socialisation and stimulation.

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Provides a thorough yet accessible exploration of Alzheimer’s disease, making it a valuable resource for readers of all backgrounds.

  • Approaches Alzheimer’s with empathy, considering the experiences of both patients and caregivers, particularly addressing the challenges caregivers face.

  • Effectively exposes the healthcare system’s shortcomings in Alzheimer’s care, sparking discussions about the need for improvements in patient support.


  • The book’s structure and organisation are convoluted, making it difficult for readers to follow the content as intended, hindering the learning experience.

Best quotes from The Problem of Alzheimer’s

“The lack of sustained and steady access to these resources was one reason why Alzheimer’s disease remained stuck as the unusual disease of the cerebral cortex that he presented after lunch at the 1906 meeting in Tübingen. Other factors were at work as well. One of them was present the very afternoon after Alzheimer stepped away from the lectern: Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mental illness.”
“There are very few of these doctors or other health care professionals committed to diagnose and treat persons with mild cognitive impairment or dementia. The reasons why include the stigma of dementia (laypeople often lean away from me when I tell them what I do). They also include the nature of the doctoring. Diagnosis is interesting. Treatment is satisfying. Alzheimer’s disease doctors however don’t have the armamentarium of treatments that cardiologists and oncologists have. Which leads to the crux of the problem: money.”

Final takeaway

The Problem of Alzheimer’s by Jason Karlawish offers a comprehensive and compassionate exploration of Alzheimer’s disease. Karlawish’s unique perspective as a medical practitioner and his empathetic approach to both patients and caregivers add depth to the narrative. The book effectively highlights the shortcomings of the healthcare system in Alzheimer’s care, igniting discussions on necessary improvements.

Overall, this book serves as a valuable resource for those looking to grasp the multifaceted challenges posed by Alzheimer’s and the need for a broader societal response to address this pressing issue. It is recommended for healthcare professionals, caregivers, and anyone interested in the Alzheimer’s crisis.

Where to buy

You may purchase The Problem of Alzheimer’s on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, hardcover, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.

Healthypedia FAQ

Yes, it explores the history of scientific efforts to combat Alzheimer's, including the discovery of amyloid and various drug treatments, while noting the challenges in finding a definitive cure.

It discusses how political factors, such as reluctance to fund specific diseases and opposition to certain healthcare policies, have impacted Alzheimer's care and support.

Its unique strengths lie in its empathy for both patients and caregivers, its critical examination of the healthcare system's flaws in Alzheimer's care, and its thorough exploration of the disease's history and potential for scientific advancements.

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