February 13, 2006
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v2.1 Reference
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April 1, 2010
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v2.1 Reference

Self, Senility, and Alzheimer's Disease in Modern America

A History

Historian Jesse F. Ballenger traces the emergence of senility as a cultural category from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s, a period in which Alzheimer's disease became increasingly associated with the terrifying prospect of losing one's self. Changes in American society and culture have complicated the notion of selfhood, Ballenger finds. No longer an ascribed status, selfhood must be carefully and willfully constructed. Thus, losing one's ability to sustain a coherent self-narrative is considered one of life's most dreadful losses. As Ballenger writes "senility haunts the landscape of the self-made man."

Stereotypes of senility and Alzheimer's disease are related to anxiety about the coherence, stability, and agency of the self—stereotypes that are transforming perceptions of old age in modern America.

Drawing on scientific, clinical, policy, and popular discourses on aging and dementia, Ballenger explores early twentieth-century concepts of aging and the emergence of gerontology to understand and distinguish normal aging from disease. In addition, he examines American psychiatry's approaches to the treatment of senility and scientific attempts to understand the brain pathology of dementia.

Ballenger's work contributes to our understanding of the emergence and significance of dementia as a major health issue.

About the Author

Jesse F. Ballenger is an assistant professor in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Pennsylvania State University and coeditor of Concepts of Alzheimer Disease: Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).


"Both science and history blend in a survey of aging and dementia, making for a broad discussion not just of changing American attitudes and culture, but changing health system responses."—California Bookwatch

"This work is a major contribution to the history of dementia and Alzheimer disease."—JAMA

"Ballenger has done the field a great service in tracing the historical roots of this problem."—Benjamin T. Mast, PsycCRITIQUES

"An important book that deserves a wide readership."—Gerald N. Grob, Journal of American History

"Give[s] the reader a vibrant and provocative account of how to think about Alzheimer's disease in anything but settled or conventional terms."—Martha Holstein, Healthcare and Aging Newsletter

"A substantial contribution to our knowledge . . . We are grateful to Ballenger for making a contribution to creating such wisdom and helping advance our culture's moral imagination."—Danny George and Peter Whitehouss, Medical Humanities Review

"A powerful, lucid account . . . Ballenger can be congratulated for a truly fascinating exploration of aging and senility. This book will appeal to physicians and historians, and the author (or the publishers) should consider marketing it to a broader public audience."—Stephen Casper, Medical History

"Ballenger aims not only to provide a cultural history of the disease but also to make ethical and epistemological claims about whether a human being with advanced Alzheimer's disease is still a person. These ambitions impose unusually high scholarly standards. Ballenger is up to the task."—Thomas R. Cole, American Historical Review

"A lucid and thoughtful history and a timely contribution . . . will appeal to readers from all professional backgrounds."—Stephen Katz, Ageing and Society

"This revealing and informative account is worth reading."—Chris Ball, History of Psychiatry

"Ballenger has written a persuasive account of a complicated subject, confronting the problem of dementia compassionately but unflinchingly . . . His writing is clear, graceful, and unburdened by jargon. This book deserves to be widely read by both historians and people dealing directly with dementia, including health care providers and family members."—Lisa Boult, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"No previous author has been able to weave together biomedical data, social science inquiries, policy issues, and popular attitudes while at the same time giving readers a sense of how victims of this dreaded disease (and those who love and care for them) think, feel, and behave. Ballenger's experiences as a caregiver and training as a historian of medicine provide the requisite insights to produce a book that will quickly become the standard work in the field. With this substantial, judicious piece of scholarship, Ballenger appropriately underscores the racial, class, and gender variations in the identification and care of the patient population."—Andrew Achenbaum, University of Houston, author of Older Americans, Vital Communities

The Johns Hopkins University Press

9780801882760 : self-senility-and-alzheimers-disease-in-modern-america-ballenger
256 Pages
$49.00 USD
9780801888885 : self-senility-and-alzheimers-disease-in-modern-america-ballenger
Electronic book text
256 Pages
$49.00 USD

Other Titles by Jesse F. Ballenger

Concepts of Alzheimer Disease

edited by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D., Konrad Maurer, M.D., Ph.D., and Jesse F. Ballenger, Ph.D.
Nov 2003 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$70.00 USD - Hardback
$36.00 USD - Electronic book text
$36.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in HEALTH & FITNESS / Diseases / Alzheimer's & Dementia

A Loving Approach to Dementia Care, third edition

Laura Wayman
Mar 2021 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$19.95 USD - book
$19.95 USD - ebook

Creative Engagement

Rachael Wonderlin - with Geri M. Lotze, PhD
Aug 2020 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$44.95 USD - Hardback
$19.95 USD - Paperback / softback
$19.95 USD - Electronic book text

Fundamental Statistical Methods for Analysis of Alzheimer's and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases

Katherine E. Irimata, Brittany N. Dugger, and Jeffrey R. Wilson - foreword by Marwan Sabbagh
May 2020 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$74.95 USD - Paperback / softback
$74.95 USD - Electronic book text

Other Titles in History of medicine

Behind the Mirror

Jeanne Simons - as told to and with commentary by Sabine Oishi, PhD - foreword and afterword by James C. Harris, MD
Apr 2021 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$34.95 USD - book
$34.95 USD - ebook

Riverblindness in Africa

Bruce Benton - foreword by James D. Wolfensohn
Dec 2020 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$49.95 USD - book
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In Search of Sexual Health

Elliott Bowen
Sep 2020 - Johns Hopkins University Press
$49.95 USD - Hardback
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