Alois Alzheimer, The Man Who Understood Oblivion

One of the curious aspects of Alois Alzheimer’s biography is that he died unaware of the importance of his discovery. He could not have imagined that in the 21st century a way would not yet be found to reverse this disease.
Alois Alzheimer, the man who understood oblivion

We’ve all heard about Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t know the story of the man who discovered it: Alois Alzheimer. This discovery was a great contribution to humanity, which until then had no detailed information on this devastating pathology.

Before the discovery of Alois Alzheimer, the disease that now bears his name was considered a simple dementia. Thanks to this doctor, it was possible to refine the differential diagnosis and identify the set of characteristics that distinguish this neurodegenerative disease from others. Since then, the studies have never stopped.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease continues to have unknown aspects to science. However, since Alois Alzheimer first described it, leaps and bounds have been made.

It is not an illusion to think that in the next few years there will be significant progress in its treatment and, why not, in its cure. Today we are going to tell you about the man who initiated this scientific advance.

Alois Alzheimer.
Alois Alzheimer.

The origins of Alois Alzheimer

Alois Alzheimer was born in Marktbreit, Bavaria (Germany), on June 14, 1864. The son of a notary, by his own desire he began studying medicine at the University of Berlin. However, he only stayed in Berlin for a year and later moved to the University of Würzburg.

In the early stages, he didn’t put much effort into his studies. It is said that at that time he adored drawing, an art for which he had a great talent. Also in those years, he participated in a saber duel that left a scar on his face.

He finished his studies in 1887 with a degree thesis entitled On the ceruminous glands . At the time, he seemed to have no interest in the puzzles of the human brain. Shortly after graduation, he worked as a private physician for a woman with a mental disorder. With her, he went on a five-month journey that allowed him to closely follow the development of the disorder.

Research on the brain

After the trip, he worked as a medical specialist at the Hospital for the Mental and Epileptic Patients in Frankfurt am Main. Later, he became chief physician and opened a laboratory for neuroscientific research. In the Frankfurt hospital he met Franz Nissl, a pathologist with whom he formed a friendship that will last a lifetime.

The two formed a team that thoroughly studied the anatomy of the brain using the brains of deceased people. That’s why Alois Alzheimer used to say: “I help my patients after they die”. It is curious to know that in 1894 he married the widow of one of his patients: Nathalie Geisenheimer.

His wife came from a very wealthy family and this allowed Alois Alzheimer to devote himself assiduously to research. The couple had three children. Unfortunately, the woman died suddenly when her husband was only 36 years old. Nathalie’s younger sister Elizabeth moved in with him and took care of the children. Two years later they all moved to Munich.

A historical discovery

Alois Alzheimer began working as the head of the anatomical laboratory at the Royal Psychiatric Clinic in Munich. The director of that institute was Emil Kraepelin, one of the most famous psychiatrists in history. Along with him, research into various types of dementia advanced at a rapid pace.

Before going to Munich, Alois Alzheimer had had a patient known by the name of Augusta D. He began caring for her and following her case closely since she was 51 years old. When he died, the doctor thoroughly examined his brain. He studied the case in great detail and this allowed him to present his conclusions in 1906.

Alois Alzheimer presented the case as that of “a specific disease of the cerebral cortex”. He described the symptoms, identifying memory loss, hallucinations and disorientation as the most typical manifestations. Anatomically, neurofibrillary plaques and tangles were present.

In 1907, he published the results of his studies and in 1910 Kraepelin used the name “Alzheimer’s disease” for the first time as a tribute to the friend who discovered the disease.

In the years that followed, Alois Alzheimer became a professor. On December 19, 1915 he died of a heart attack. It is said that the time spent in the Munich clinic together with Kraepelin marked the golden age of that institution.

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