Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer's syndrome

After the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer (Marktbreit 1864 Breslau 1915).

Alois Alzheimer was born the second son of a notary in the town of Markbreit south of Würzburg in the Kingdom of Bavaria. His father had big plans for him and when he was ten he sent him to a gymnasium in Aschaffenburg, where an uncle was pastor.

In 1883 Alois graduated with good grades in all subjects, a special mention for natural sciences and a disclaimer for student activities that were unacceptable. Even as a student he made his mark.

In one of the typical German student duels with the sword, Alois suffered a nasty wound across the left side of his face. That left side is not visible in any of the photos that have survived of him.

He was 1.80 meters tall and stocky and, as a good Bavarian, could move unheard of amounts of beer, according to contemporaries. He studied medicine in Berlin, Tübingen and Würzburg and became a doctor in 1888 with a 17-page dissertation on wax glands.

In the meantime, one of his professors had instilled in him the love of the microscope.

He Kon a five-month journey as a private doctor in the retinue of a wealthy, mentally ill woman.

At the end of 1888, he happened to see an advertisement for a vacancy as a 'third doctor' in the city psychiatric institution of Frankfurt.

It was led by the renowned Heinrich Hoffmann, who had a beautiful castle built for his sick outside the city and was successful with his humane treatment of the mentally ill.

Hoffmann (by the way, the author of Struwwelpoter, Piet de Smeerpoets) was almost eighty and his successor Sioli was alone with 254 patients. The position of 'second doctor' was also vacant. He hired Alzheimer's right away. He was only twenty-four.

It would later turn out that from a psychiatric point of view he had ended up in the most interesting place in Germany. He would stay there for fifteen years.

The "second doctor," who arrived a few months later, was named Nissl. He would become familiar with new techniques for coloring brain preparations. Sioli, Nissl and Alzheimer transformed the institution into a kind of sanatorium.

They made the sick work in the vegetable gardens or the large park, made trips with them and pushed the free treatment to the limit. Alzheimer's devoted all his free time to researching the organic causes of the diseases. He made hundreds of preparations.

He had extensive conversations with many sick people, which he carefully recorded. After their deaths, he dissected their brains to see if there was any connection. He sought an anatomical basis for certain psychoses.

For example, from November 26 to mid-December 1901, he had a number of conversations with the patient Auguste D., fifty-one years old, too young to be demented.

Early in 1894, a doctor friend who was accompanying the immensely wealthy Frankfurt diamond merchant Otto Geisenheimer on a scientific expedition to Algeria wrote a letter to Alzheimer inviting him to come to Algeria.

Alzheimer's had previously treated Geisenheimer's five-year-old daughter. Geisenheimer suffered from paralysis. Alzheimer's left and Geisenheimer died shortly after his arrival. Already in April, Alzheimer married the widow Cecilie Geisenheimer for the registry office.

In 1895, when a child was on the way, also for the Catholic Church. Their daughter Gertrud was born and the couple honeymooned in Italy.

Nissl moved to the University of Heidelberg and Alzheimer became a second doctor in 1896, the same year his son Hans was born. But in February 1901, Cecilie died. Alzheimer was thirty-seven and a widower, but financially independent.

He threw himself into work like crazy. In March 1903 he reported to Emil Kraepelin, the most famous psychiatrist of those years, in Heidelberg. He went with him to Munich to set up the Royal Psychiatric Clinic, which is connected to the university.

Alzheimer did that unpaid, he could afford it. As head of the anatomical workshops, he ended up in a very ambitious team. The facility counted two thousand images per year.

That same year he obtained his habilitation on the basis of the research he had carried out in Frankfurt between 1888 and 1903: the work was a milestone in clinical psychiatry.

Alzheimer's worked day and night. His laboratories gained world fame. Photos from those years show students from all over the world. HansGerhard Creutzfeldt (from Creutzfeldt-Jakob) was also there. Alzheimer turned out to have great pedagogical talent.

Kraepelin had no objection that Alzheimer's still paid all his costs, including the salary of his medical staff.

On April 8, 1906, his special patient Auguste D. died in Frankfurt and Sioli sent her brain material.

On November 3, at the 37th Congress of South-West German Psychiatrists, Alzheimer presented his findings "on a strange disease of the cerebral cortex." "Nobody asked questions," according to protocol. Alzheimer's itself

could not have imagined that he had discovered 'the disease of the twentieth century'. In 1907 he published his lecture in a journal of psychiatry. On this basis, the phenomenon of presenile dementia was given its name.

In 1910, Alzheimer founded a new psychiatric journal of which he served as publisher and editor-in-chief until his death five years later. That year Kraepelin published a standard work in which he immediately spoke of 'Alzheimer's Disease'.

In 1912, Alzheimer was asked to work as a professor at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw) and immediately take over the management of the local psychiatric clinic. Finally he could really be the head of a clinic, which was what he had always wanted.

When he took the train to Breslau with his children in August, he was completely exhausted. He arrived sick. He had a heart condition but refused to spare his strength. Some sources say the ailment stemmed from neglected tonsillitis.

For more than two years he worked like a man possessed, published countless studies, appeared at every congress. A race against death. The friendly and lively Bavarian of the past, always ready for a practical joke, turned into a difficult and impatient gentleman.

It took him a lot of effort to attend the wedding of his daughter Gertrud on May 15, 1915. In October he became bedridden, by December 19 he was dead. He is buried next to his wife in Frankfurt's Hauptfriedhof.

As 'half-Jews' and 'quarter-Jews', his children and grandchildren got into great trouble in the 1930s. Since 1995, his birthplace in Marktbreit has been turned into a museum.

In scientific work from the 1960s, the term 'Alzheimer's disease' was already used for mental decline in general. The disease became more widely known when it was discovered in 1981 in the actress Rita Hayworth. Even more attention arose when she was diagnosed with ex-President Ronald Reagan. In November 1994, he wrote a dramatic farewell to his people in a letter. He could hardly remember then that he had been president for eight years. Articles today reveal that Alzheimer's disease can also occur in younger people. Alzheimer's would wholeheartedly agree. The cause of the disease is still unknown.

(see also Creutzfeld-Jakob)