While cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (followed by cancer and stroke), Alzheimer’s Disease — the sixth leading cause of death — is getting a lot of attention these days. However, I still hear people refer to this devastating illness as “Old Timer’s.”
This misnomer begs the question, “Where did the name of the disease originate?”
Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer was a Bavarian-born (1864) German psychiatrist and neuropathologist at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic in Frankfurt. On a fateful day in 1901, he met a new patient who exhibited memory loss, often expressed by repeating the phrase, “I have lost myself.” Planning to conduct a short interview, he recorded this conversation:
Q: What is your name?
Q: How is your husband?
A: I think Auguste.
Q: Your husband?
A: Oh, my man.
Q: Are you married?
A: For Auguste.
Q: Mrs. Deter?
A: Yes, to Auguste Deter.
After her death at age 51 in April 1906, he took the patient records and her brain to the Munich lab of a colleague, Emil Kraepelin. There, along with two Italian physicians, he used staining techniques to identify amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
Today, more than a century later, the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are considered the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Alzheimer is credited with identifying the first published case of “pre-senile dementia,” which Kraepelin named “Alzheimer’s Disease” in his textbook “Clinical Psychiatry,” published in 1910.
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Here's a History of Alzheimer's