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Self, Senility, and Alzheimer's Disease in Modern America

A History

Jesse F. Ballenger

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Historian Jesse F. Ballenger traces the emergence of senility as a cultural category from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s, a period in which Alzheimer's disease became increasingly associated with the terrifying prospect of losing one's self. Changes in American society and culture have complicated the notion of selfhood, Ballenger finds. No longer an ascribed status, selfhood must be carefully and willfully constructed. Thus, losing one's ability to sustain a coherent self-narrative is considered one of life's most dreadful losses. As Ballenger writes "senility haunts the landscape...

Historian Jesse F. Ballenger traces the emergence of senility as a cultural category from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s, a period in which Alzheimer's disease became increasingly associated with the terrifying prospect of losing one's self. Changes in American society and culture have complicated the notion of selfhood, Ballenger finds. No longer an ascribed status, selfhood must be carefully and willfully constructed. Thus, losing one's ability to sustain a coherent self-narrative is considered one of life's most dreadful losses. As Ballenger writes "senility haunts the landscape of the self-made man."

Stereotypes of senility and Alzheimer's disease are related to anxiety about the coherence, stability, and agency of the self—stereotypes that are transforming perceptions of old age in modern America.

Drawing on scientific, clinical, policy, and popular discourses on aging and dementia, Ballenger explores early twentieth-century concepts of aging and the emergence of gerontology to understand and distinguish normal aging from disease. In addition, he examines American psychiatry's approaches to the treatment of senility and scientific attempts to understand the brain pathology of dementia.

Ballenger's work contributes to our understanding of the emergence and significance of dementia as a major health issue.

Reviews

Reviews

Both science and history blend in a survey of aging and dementia, making for a broad discussion not just of changing American attitudes and culture, but changing health system responses.

This work is a major contribution to the history of dementia and Alzheimer disease.

Ballenger has done the field a great service in tracing the historical roots of this problem.

An important book that deserves a wide readership.

Give[s] the reader a vibrant and provocative account of how to think about Alzheimer’s disease in anything but settled or conventional terms.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Stereotype of Senility in Late-Nineteenth-Century America
2. Beyond the Characteristic Plaques and Tangles
3. From Senility to Successful Aging
4. The Renaissance

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Stereotype of Senility in Late-Nineteenth-Century America
2. Beyond the Characteristic Plaques and Tangles
3. From Senility to Successful Aging
4. The Renaissance of Pathology
5. The Health Politics of Anguish
6. The Preservation of Selfhood in the Culture of Dementia
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Jesse F. Ballenger
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Jesse F. Ballenger, Ph.D.

Jesse F. Ballenger is an assistant professor in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Pennsylvania State University and coeditor of Concepts of Alzheimer Disease: Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
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