I recently attended a talk that opened with a biography of the man who discovered the pathological condition of dementia and diagnosed the disease that bears his name, Alois Alzheimer.
Alzheimer was a German psychiatrist, and began his residency in 1888 at the Hospital for the Mentally Ill and Epileptics in Frankfurt, Germany. He became interested in research on the cortex of the human brain, and continued his education in psychiatry and neuropathology. In 1903, under the tutelage of Emil Kraepelin, Alzheimer created a new laboratory for brain research at the Munich medical school.
Having published many papers on conditions and diseases of the brain, Alzheimer gave a remarkable lecture in 1906 that made him famous, in which he described an 'unusual disease of the cerebral cortex', the first form of dementia, in his patient Auguste Deter.
The first Alzheimer’s patient
Auguste Deter, died 9 April 1906
Auguste, a woman in her fifties, demonstrated symptoms not unlike the prevailing markers of dementia: reduced comprehension and memory loss, disorientation, delusions and hallucinations. She died at 55 years-old, and due to her age, she was given a “presenile dementia” diagnosis. However, the post-mortem showed various abnormalities of the brain, including thinner than normal and senile plaque in the cerebral cortex, previously only encountered in elderly people. Alzheimer was able to identify the neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, which had never previously been described.
It was Emil Kraepelin’s suggestion that the newly discovered disease be given the name “Alzheimer’s disease”, after its founder.
Today, the methods for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease is still typically based on the same investigative methods used in 1906. This is remarkable compared with the development of investigative methods for other diseases, and it speaks volumes about the quality of Alzheimer's discovery.