Alois Alzheimer: Biography of the neurologist who discovered this dementia

One of the problems with age is memory loss. As they reach old age, many people suffer from dementia, which is disabling and generates a lot of psychological distress, both for those who suffer from it and in their immediate environment.

Among the diseases in which there is significant memory loss, the best known is Alzheimer’s disease, characterized by a decrease in the thickness of the cerebral cortex and abnormalities of the neurons.

In this article we will see, in summary, a biography of Alois Alzheimer, the discoverer of the disease that bears his name and this is behind most cases of dementia.

    Biography of Alois Alzheimer

    Alois Alzheimer was a German neurologist and psychiatrist born in Bavaria, Germany, June 14, 1864. He died on December 19, 1915 in Wroclaw, now Wrocław, Poland, at the age of 51.

    Already in the years when he went to school he showed an interest in science, excelling excellently as a student. For this reason, and following the advice of his father, he decided to study medicine, being the first in his family to opt for this career.

    professional training

    In 1883 he began his medical studies at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, but, five months after starting, he joined the University of Würzburg. During the winter semester from 1886 to 1887 he studied at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. When he returned from this stay, decided to deepen his knowledge in histology and embryology, under the tutelage of Swiss anatomist Albert von Kölliker. Von Kölliker directed Alzheimer’s doctoral thesis: “On ceruminous glands”.

    Although the histological studies of Alzheimer’s disease initially focused on different parts of the human body, the truth is that he considered that the study of body tissues could be very useful in clarifying the biological causes of psychological disorders.

    In 1888 he graduated in medicine and obtained a license to practice it throughout the German Empire. That same year, he started working at the city asylum for the demented and epileptic in Frankfurt, where he showed his great talents as a doctor. In this same town he met Franz Nissl, A great psychiatrist and medical researcher, and they developed a great friendship.

    The two carried out several neuropathological studies together and considered that the mechanical restraint of patients with mental disorders should be reduced, favoring autonomy and freedom of hospital patients. They felt that a good method of calming patients was the baths. together they tried to find out what were the organic bases of mental disorders. In 1896 he moved to Nissl as head of the Frankfurt asylum.

    Several years later, in 1903, Emil Kraepelin, considered the founder of modern psychiatry, invited Alois Alzheimer to join his clinic in Heidelberg. Despite the tremendous opportunity it presented, Alzheimer’s disease was only in the clinic for about six months.

    Research and work: case of Auguste D.

    During his years in Frankfurt, Alzheimer had the opportunity to learn about the case of a patient who would make him famous: Auguste D.

    Auguste D. was a 51-year-old patient who had been admitted because presented with a very advanced state of memory loss. At first, about six months before she was admitted, her symptoms were fits of jealousy, in which she thought her husband was having an affair with a neighbor. After that, after about two weeks, he began to have memory problems, completely forgetting some aspects of his life, which made it difficult for him to do household chores.

    Alzheimer’s remained the target of Auguste D.’s dementia progression, marking any new noticeable symptoms or behaviors. The patient never received any treatment other than soothing baths.

    When Auguste D. died, Alzheimer’s disease began to study his brain, Convinced that the symptoms had a neurological explanation. He took samples, stained them with chemical dyes, and saw that unlike healthy neurons, the patient’s neurons had a feature never seen in other patients before. In addition to having senile plaques, made up of extracellular material, in Auguste D.’s brain, there was neurofibrillary degeneration, that is, changes in the structures of neurons.

    After this case, and once he had published several studies, in 1906 Alzheimer’s disease presented the detected disease to Aguste D. in the lecture which catapulted him as a famous scientist. At the 37th Conference of Psychiatry in South West Germany, Alzheimer presented his research under the title On a specific disease of the cerebral cortex. He said he was studying an unusual neurodegenerative disease that affected the cerebral cortex and the main symptoms were memory loss, spatiotemporal disorientation, hallucinations and death.

    Although Alzheimer’s disease initially considered the disease he discovered to be rare, the truth is that it is one of the most common causes of dementia. Kraepelin is the one who baptized Alzheimer’s disease in honor of its discoverer in 1910 in the eighth edition of the Handbook of Psychiatry.

    In 1912, Alois Alzheimer was appointed ordinary professor of psychiatry and took over the management of the psychiatric and mental clinic of the University of Wrocław.

      Death and inheritance

      In 1913, moving to Wroclaw to take a seat in his new post recently as Head of the Psychology Department of Friedrich-Wilhelm University, Alzheimer’s. suffered from a severe cold aggravated by endocarditis, Which was the cause of his death in 1915.

      Barely 5 years after the death of Alzheimer’s, the disease was already widely known in the scientific community. Researchers such as Ramón and Cajal looked at Alzheimer’s disease experimentally to confirm the findings the German doctor had found.

      Alzheimer’s disease has been a major concern since its description. This implies a serious deterioration both of the patient’s autonomy and of the dynamics of his family environment. Many research groups have looked into this disease and, thanks to their findings, have produced drugs that help slow the development of the disease.

      Also, thanks to the fact that this disease could have a name, there are many foundations dedicated to raising awareness of the disease in society, such as the Pasqual Maragall Foundation, as well as the organization of an international day of the disease. Alzheimer’s (September 21).

      Although more than a hundred years have passed since Alzheimer’s disease was described, the truth is that not everything is known about this disease, considered the epidemic of the 21st century.

      Bibliographical references:

      • García, S. and Villagómez-Ortiz, AJ (2008). Alois Alzheimer: Doctor of all time. Journal of medico-surgical specialties, 13 (1), 1-2

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