Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ellen Page-Robin

Second Advisor

Dr. Morton Wagenfeld

Third Advisor

Dr. Cecil Mclntire

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Gerald Markle


Once considered an uncommon presenile condition, Alzheimer's disease is today claimed to be one of the major causes of death in older persons. This study examines the process of changing definitions that led to this reconstruction. The method employs both unstructured non-quantitative and structured quantitative content analysis. The data base includes journal articles, media reports, government documents, professional manuals and conference proceedings. Alzheimer's disease is treated as a putative condition and all statements concerning the condition are treated as claims. Focusing specifically on the years 1970 to 1985, we show that cognitive impairment in older persons, once claimed to be a concomitant of the aging process, came under the control of the medical profession. A specialized group of physicians were involved in promoting new medical claims. Shortly thereafter nonmedical claims makers were co-opted and willingly promoted the new disease designation. The analysis indicates that the strategies of this loose coalition achieved the institutionalization of Alzheimer's disease as an accepted category of the official order. In effect this was a political rather than a scientific achievement.


Fifth Advisor: Dr. Ronald Kramer

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Sociology Commons