What Are the Origins of the Study of Alzheimer's Disease?


Quick Answer

In 1901, Dr. Alois Alzheimer started tracking Auguste Deter, a woman in a German asylum suffering from symptoms that included loss of short-term memory and agitation, notes HealthCentral. Dr. Alzheimer monitored Deter until she died in April 1906, and he then performed an autopsy on her brain.

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Dr. Alzheimer found that Deter's brain exhibited atrophied grey matter, amyloid plaques and neurotangles, indications that she had suffered from a condition that was different than the dementia that occurs naturally with aging, explains HealthCentral. In November 1906, Dr. Alzheimer presented his findings at a conference in Germany and declared that a disease of the cerebral cortex caused her symptoms. Doctors found 11 more cases in the next five years in which patients suffered from similar symptoms, and their subsequent autopsies revealed similar damage to the brain.

Doctors had already begun to refer to the condition as Alzheimer's disease, and in 1910, the Textbook of Psychiatry included it as a subtype of senile dementia, according to HealthCentral. The description of the disease was incomplete in that book, and until 1977, doctors only diagnosed patients between the ages of 45 and 65 with Alzheimer's. After several studies found the same symptoms and autopsy results in patients regardless of their ages, doctors broadened the definition. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, as of 2015, but there are hundreds of research projects underway, with many at the human testing stage.

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