Mind Thief: A Book Review

I lost my maternal grandmother to Alzheimers when I was young. (You might say she lost us first.)

In the decades since, I’ve tried to keep track developments in Alzheimer’s research. But that’s been kind of tough.

Aluminum is the cause? No, wait, that was an artifact of testing. A new drug? Years later, we’ve heard nothing more of it. There have been real breakthroughs in understanding the disease, but few substantive changes in its outlook.

So I was happy to find the book Mind Thief: The Story of Alzheimer’s by Han Yu.

This book explains where we are now and what all of those “breakthroughs” you’ve read about have ended up.

Han Yu teaches scientific and technical communication, and in this book she applies everything she knows to both understand and explain the state of Alzheimer’s research. She does a terrific job of explaining the different treatment approaches and how they theoretically should work. It’s an excellent example of science writing.

She also has harsh words for drug makers and researchers who have tried to “spin” the disappointing results of their studies. She writes, “I didn’t expert all the ambivalence, exaggeration, and even fraud in scholarly publications — publications that supposedly represent the integrity and rationality of modern science.”

In a truly ironic twist, you actually do want to forget much of what you have read about Alzheimer’s cures and treatments.

Here are a few of my take-aways from reading this book:

  • While we have learned a lot, we still don’t really understand the causes of the disease — and that lack of understanding makes true progress harder.
  • Things that seem promising in the laboratory almost always disappoint in human trials.

For now, keep eating well, exercising, sleeping well and challenging your mind — perhaps by reading great nonfiction books. (That last part was my own addition, not the author’s.)

If you know people afflicted by this disease (and don’t we all), and if you’ve been trying to follow developments from a distance, this book offers a fascinating tour into what’s been going on in Alzheimer’s research.



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