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Book and Media Reviews
July 19, 2006

Dementia, History

JAMA. 2006;296(3):336-341. doi:10.1001/jama.296.3.336

In Self, Senility, and Alzheimer Disease in Modern America, historian Jesse Ballenger focuses on the historical origins of the dread that Alzheimer disease generates in American society and the way that dread has helped to shape knowledge about dementia and health policy. In the early 19th century, characterizations of senility and old age were relatively neutral, signifying the condition of being old. But by the end of the 19th century, the term senility had been appropriated by the medical profession and transformed into age-associated deterioration, especially of cognitive functions. Negative images of old age and senility defined the dominant narrative into the 20th century and characterized a problem on which much research and policy has been focused.

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