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Conference–Untangling Selfhood: The History and Experience of Alzheimer's Disease

Untangling Selfhood: The History and Experience of Alzheimer's Disease
When Mar 29, 2007 8:00 AM to
Mar 31, 2007 5:00 PM
Where Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Avenue, State College, PA 16803
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Untangling Selfhood:  

The History and Experience of Alzheimer's Disease

 

A Conference Marking the 100th Anniversary of
Alzheimer's Disease as a Diagnostic Category

March 29–31, 2007 ~ The Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State

 



Conference OverviewHistory of Alzheimer's Disease

This year will be widely recognized as the 100th Anniversary of the “discovery” of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In 1906, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer presented the case history of a 51-year-old woman with dementia named Auguste Deter that would eventually be the basis for the diagnostic label AD. (His case presentation was published in 1907.) This anniversary will be marked at several major international conferences by celebratory accounts of a century of scientific progress in unraveling the mysterious pathology of the disease. Although the striking photograph of Auguste Deter will likely be seen often in these festivities, her actual experience and the experience of people who suffer with dementia is not likely to receive serious attention. Penn State’s conference will mark the anniversary by focusing attention on the experience of people with dementia and other severe cognitive disorders.

The emergence in the twentieth century of AD as a major diagnostic category was part of a broader rise to prominence of cognitive disorders on the cultural landscape of the modern world. Since the 17th century, increasing emphasis on individual competence and autonomy as the basis for citizenship and status have raised the importance of cognitive abilities such as language and memory in the construction of selfhood, and disorders that impair those abilities have increasingly been seen as frightful and devastating. By the late twentieth century, people with severe cognitive disabilities were typically at the outer limits of stigma–their very selfhood open to question. In public discourse on AD, for example, it was often said that dementia destroyed the selfhood of its victims, that the person with dementia was no longer “really there” despite the persistence of an animate body.

But in recent years, people with cognitive disorders and their advocates have challenged the idea that selfhood is destroyed by the loss of cognitive abilities. Taking the experience of people with dementia and other cognitive disorders seriously has thus opened a re-examination of current concepts and practices among clinicians, researchers and care providers, and raised new and difficult questions for biomedical ethicists and policymakers. Taking this experience seriously has also troubled the boundary between cognitive disorders and normality, opening up new possibilities for scholars in the humanities and social sciences who work on questions of memory, selfhood, and culture.

The 100th Anniversary of what has become perhaps the most prominent of cognitive disorders offers an opportunity to bring together scholars from around the world who are working on various aspects of the experience of dementia and other severe cognitive disorders, but who seldom have an opportunity to share their ideas and insights across the disciplinary boundaries that have divided the modern university.

Topics covered in the conference will include:

  • subjectivity and selfhood in dementia
  • cross-cultural perspectives on the experience of dementia
  • case histories, illness narratives and narrative medicine
  • prevention and treatments strategies in light of the experience of people with dementia
  • historical perspectives on Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive disorders
This conference is free and open to the public.
There is no registration.