About Me

Since 2014, I have been on the faculty of the Health Administration Department at Drexel University, teaching classes on bioethics, the history of health care and medicine, and aging.  Before that, I taught for a decade at Penn State University in the Science, Technology and Society and Bioethics programs. I earned a PhD in History from Case Western Reserve University, and did a postdoc in the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

My interest in the history of Alzheimer’s disease began in the early 1980s when I worked as a nursing assistant in the geriatric wards of a general hospital in Cleveland, often caring for people with dementia and witnessing how terms like Alzheimer’s disease and Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type were replacing older, more general terms like senility or organic brain syndrome in clinical settings.

While my background in nursing gave me a perspective on caregiving and the experience of dementia, my graduate and postdoctoral work gave me understanding of the perspectives of clinical medicine and biomedical research on Alzheimer’s Both CWRU and Hopkins were rich environments for doing work on the history of AD, and I have benefited from contact with many researchers and clinicians investigating various aspects of dementia. These experiences convinced me of the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry and discourse, and I am committed to bringing my perspective on health and medicine as a cultural historian into a creative engagement with the perspectives of scholars from other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as well as clinicians, researchers, ethicists, care providers, patients and the general public.

I have written a book on the cultural history of Alzheimer’s called Self, Senility and Alzheimer’s Disease in Modern America (Johns Hopkins, 2006), and co-edited two interdisciplinary volumes: Concepts of Alzheimer Disease: Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives (Johns Hopkins, 2000) with Peter Whitehouse and Konrad Maurer, and Treating Dementia: Do We Have a Pill for It? (Johns Hopkins, 2009) with Whitehouse, Constantine Lyketsos, Peter Rabins and Jason Karlawish.

3 thoughts on “About Me

  1. […] Welcome Jesse Ballenger to the blogosphere.  Jesse is a historian who specializes in the history of medicine and is the author of Self, Senility and Alzheimer’s Disease in Modern America.  Gary Schwitzer alerted me to Jesse’s post on Gina Kolata’s recent Sunday New York Times piece, How Do You Live Knowing You Might Have an Alzheimer’s Gene?, as well as to the existence of his blog, To Conquer Confusion:  A Historian’s Perspective on the Science and Experience of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.  Jesse has both praise and criticism for Kolata’s story, and his post brings needed perspective on the history of research on Alzheimer’s as well as on the choice on Kolata’s part to present only the very optimistic views of certain Alzheimer’s researchers who “say that within a decade there could be a drug that staves off brain destruction and death.”  I agree with him that “Kolata should have raised questions about this claim, and talked to experts not directly involved in the research who are far less optimistic about its potential to so quickly lead to effective treatments.”  So please go read his post. […]

  2. Hi;
    Love your blog, insight and analysis. My group focuses on person-centered care with a focus on cognitive impairment. I would love to chat about having you speak at our next symposium in 2013. Please contact me!

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