As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time living in his own head, the Solipsist has always harbored a special dread of Alzheimer's disease. To paraphrase Woody Allen, our brain is our second favorite organ. The thought of no longer being able to think is frightening.
We were thus intrigued to read today of a number of potnetial breakthroughs in the battle against Alzheimer's. All this research remains in the experimental stage, but it does sound promising. Scientists have figured out that the overabundance of plaque, which gums up the brain's works and leads to the mental deterioration associated with Alzheimer's, may actually be a "drainage" problem. Researchers used to think that Alzheimer's sufferers, for whatever reason, produced too much of a protein called beta amyloid; now, they've figured out that, in fact, these patients produce about the same amount of beta amyloid as healthy folk--they just don't get rid of it as quickly. What this means for medicine is that scientists can take a two-pronged approach to combating the disease: They can work to slow production of beta amyloid, and/or they can look for ways to help speed the passage of the plaque out of the brain.
We realize it can't be as simple as it sounds. At the same time, though, we find something reassuring in the thought that, instead of some existential destroyer of a person's essential self, Alzheimer's may essentially be little more than an internal plumbing problem. With any luck, by the time we reach our elder years, the Roto Rooters of neurology will be able to snake out our synapses and prevent any decline into senility.