Meeting the Queen in Madrid
John Zeisel, social entrepreneur and Alzheimer’s advocate extraordinaire, asked me to participate in the Global Alzheimer’s Research Summit in Madrid September 21 through 23, an initiative organised and promoted by the Fundación Reina Sofia and the Fundaciòn Pasqual Maragall. The affiliated foundations, John and his many friends (see the picture) are intensifying the focus on psychosocial and humanities research and scholarship. Please see the webcast for details. We kept referring to research in this area as nonpharmacological. Down in the basement room above the main of the auditorium a smaller group including a number of my other friends were talking about drugs and the new biomarker dominated guidelines. I’m afraid those sessions were a bit more discouraging, especially when I asked probing questions about the evidence that such approaches are really meaningful breakthroughs. I really think we should see biomedical research in the context of broader biopsychosocial approaches and remember that science is a part of culture, not an enterprise separate from it. As a scientist I enjoy science but I also do not like the power of money and fame to foster unbridled and uncritical faith, i.e. the religion of science or scientism.
Two highlights of the visit to Spain standout. Meeting Queen Sofia of Spain (and expressing gratitude for her efforts on behalf of Alzheimer’s disease in Spain and world-wide) was one. That royal presence was made all the more special by a conversation shared with Dennis Selkoe. Dennis informed her that he hoped to be prescribing an effective medication before he stopped practicing in 15 years (which according to one of his colleagues would make him over 80). I talked with Dennis later and will be writing an open letter to him in a blog to follow. Dennis has been a consistent and polished advocate of the evolving amyloid hypothesis which has dominated the field since the cholinergic hypothesis era during which I was in the laboratory. The “so-called” cholinergic hypothesis led to some drug therapies, albeit medications of limited value. The amyloid hypothesis has led to one promise after another and no drugs (but quite a few bad side effects in trials).
A final highlight was meeting my new friend Mariano Sanchez, Professor of Sociology in Granada, at CARE-MECO Center in Madrid to visit their intergenerational program which involves integrating a day care for children with a residence for the elderly. I appreciated the hospitality. I especially liked seeing three year olds preparing for their interactions with elders. Our intergenerational school is enjoying many more international connections to those who see multiage, crossgenerational programs as important to the future.