Bioethics Blogs

Margaret Lock Offers Dementia’s Realism Instead of Hope

Cynthia Martin writes that unlike cancer’s new push to accelerate treatment (recently launched under the banner Cancer Moonshot2020), there is no Alzheimer’s MoonShot2020.


William Utermohlen’s self-portraits, executed after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, are haunting. Not so much the first portrait he did in 1996 when he was 60 with its orange swaths and questioning eyes, but subsequent paintings and drawings charting a course of degradation and jumbling angst. These works of art, like the Alzheimer’s they document, are difficult to forget. I want to know – do the portraits exhibit impressions of himself or show decline in his artistic abilities? His paintings are a sombre end to a sobering speech given by visiting speaker Dr. Margaret Lock – the last in a series of NTE: Impact Ethics events for Alzheimer’s Awareness month (January 2016). Unlike many talks on Alzheimer’s and dementia, this one doesn’t end with hope, a hint of a cure or optimistic timeline – vaccine by 2025! – confidence via an exclamation mark.

Like researchers, every person in this packed hall has come seeking clues. Some of us have also come out of fear; we’ve come because of our unsettled guesses as to who will wear diapers and who will change them. More generally, we have come to hear Lock explain the conundrums of science. Lock is a realist and does not pander; she is firm in her belief that “research is not making the strides we’ve heard about.” Lock tells us Alzheimer’s is dementia’s most common form, “a diffuse multi-form syndrome that includes Lewy body.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.