Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 336–359 | Cite as

What is ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’? The ‘Auguste D’ Case Re-opened

  • Kieran KeohaneEmail author
  • Victoria Grace
Original Paper


What is Alzheimer’s: an organic, neuropathological psychiatric disease, caused by plaques and tangles in aging brains or/and an existential condition affecting the minds of aging persons experiencing disconnection from meaning-bearing networks of social relations? Reviewing current research and revisiting Alzheimer’s original case of ‘Auguste D’ this paper offers an historical–sociological genealogy that raises fundamental questions of causality, and even of the ontological status of Alzheimer’s and the dementia reputed to it as a disease entity. Drawing on Kuhn’s notion of ‘science as usual’ and Foucault’s notion of the discursive formation of ‘regimes of truth’, our analysis seeks to understand how a sole medical focus on either bio-markers of neurological disease or genetic association was accomplished in the absence of sufficient and robust evidence. To counter the exclusion of psychosocial considerations, this paper offers two original hypotheses on the iconic case of ‘Auguste D’, taking into account the social milieu in which she lived and the specific circumstances of her life. It goes on to suggest the way in which the contemporary socio-cultural context may have dementiagenic tendencies. This research supports Gaines and Whitehouse’s argument that research into the phenomenon and symptoms of Alzheimer’s should focus on extracorporal and psychosocial factors.


Alzheimer’s Dementia Psychosocial factors Disease construction Case history Aging 



This study was not funded by any grant.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Moral Foundations of Economy & Society Research Centre (UCC & WIT), Department of Sociology, School of Sociology, Philosophy, Criminology, Government and PoliticsUniversity College Cork, National University of Ireland (UCC)CorkIreland
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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