Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Learning from Alzheimer's Disease

Learning from Alzheimer's Disease

Lara Keuck


Alzheimer’s disease is featured in popular, political, and scientific discourses as one of the major medical threats for aging societies. At the same time, there is a considerable biomedical debate about what exactly should qualify as Alzheimer’s disease. This concerns not only particular questions about the differentiation between so-called normal and pathological forms of age-related cognitive decline. The biomedical controversy about Alzheimer's disease also relates to general debates on the validity of psychiatric classification. The existing scholarship has focused on the contested status and historical transformations of either the particular disease or general classification. So far, however, there has been no comprehensive historical and philosophical account of how shifts in understandings within biomedical research on Alzheimer's disease and changing approaches to psychiatric classification have influenced each other. Such an account is needed to gain a more contextualized view of the current debate about Alzheimer’s disease within psychiatry, the biomedical sciences, and society.


The evaluation of the model role of Alzheimer’s disease, its long history and many re-phrasings are at the heart of Lara’s research project at the intersection of history and the philosophy of biomedicine and psychiatry. She examines how psychiatrists, neurologists and biomedical researchers have framed Alzheimer’s disease—from its first description until today—not only as a specific illness, but also as an exemplar for reasoning about general theories of mental disorder. Against this backdrop, the sub-project contextualizes the development of current biomedical models of Alzheimer’s disease, and brings together historical, philosophical and scientific readings of what it has meant to know something about and learn something from a disease.