Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

The End of Memory with Jay Ingram


Jay Ingram has been widely recognized for his work. He takes complicated concepts and findings in science and translates the information into language we all can understand. His outstanding ability to do just that was evident at this Writers Festival event on Sunday evening.


When it comes to our healthcare, we routinely hear of new findings in chronic disease management or of a certain diet can bring us long lasting life. Incredibly, what was touted as good for us yesterday is bad for us today. We long for a trusted source of credible information about health and the health of our loved ones. If you want to learn about "A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer's" (the book's subtitle), then Jay Ingram's  The End of Memory is the book for you.


Ingram wrote the book because he believes "it's a rare person who hasn't been touched" by Alzheimer's disease. He wanted to raise awareness and to describe some aspects of normal aging; namely, that some memory loss is normal. Both Jay Ingram and host Lawrence Wall recounted their experiences with the disease. Each of them had a parent who lived and died with Alzheimer's disease.


Dr. Alois Alzheimer first described the disease that would be named after him in 1906. Now, over 100 years later we know the disease affects millions around the world yet we have very limited knowledge of what causes it and there is no cure in sight. Alzheimer's makes up 75% of all known forms of dementia. The vast majority of Alzheimer's disease diagnoses are known as 'late onset', meaning they occur after the age of 65. The current prevalence of the disease is 1 in 10 at age 65 and 1 in 3 at age 80.


Ingram spoke of a number of common misunderstandings about the disease. Some say if you have seen one Alzheimer's patient you've seen them all when in fact the disease and its impact are unique to each individual. Within the treatment community the more common phrase is " if you've seen one Alzheimer's patient, you've seen one Alzheimer's patient". Over the years there have been theories about what causes and what can prevent or delay Alzheimer's. At one point it was thought that aluminum from sources such as cooking pots contributed to Alzheimer's. The theory has since fallen apart. As for whether or not doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles has any impact on staving off the disease, perspectives are mixed


There are many unknowns. It's not clear just when the disease starts. In the short term, there are no promising treatments on the horizon. There have, however, been interesting findings that can predict the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease. For example, it appears the further you were able to go in school, the more the chances of getting the disease are reduced. The exact correlation between the two is unknown.


Ingram pointed to a trio of questions everybody has about Alzheimer's disease. What are my chances of getting the disease? What can I do stave off the disease (response: three simple things)? And, if I can't stave off the disease, what should I anticipate? Ingram, in turn, addressed each of the questions, leaving the audience with a combination of hope and frustration. We hope that the current evidence about three simple things we can do to prevent or delay the disease stands up over time. It is frustrating we aren't close to a cure or effective treatment.


As for those three things that have been proven to stave off Alzheimer's disease? You'll need to pick up a copy of the book to get the full story.