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This Month in Medical History: Remembering Alois Alzheimers

Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | June 21, 2017
From the June 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


Alzheimer worked with two Italian physicians with knowledge of a new stain for preparing tissue to examine under a microscope. The autopsy of Deter’s brain showed various pathological conditions, including shrinking of the cortex and the presence of neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques. The tangles and plaques, able to be investigated better due to the new stain, stood out as particularly unusual discoveries in a woman of her age and Alzheimer studied them extensively, determining that they were the cause of her dementia. Later that year, Alzheimer would give a lecture about his findings, and in 1907 would write a paper extensively detailing his findings. However, it was Kraepelin’s book, “Handbook of Psychiatry,” published in 1910, that would give the disease its name, although American Solomon Carter Fuller reported similar findings five months before Alzheimer’s lecture.

In 1912, King Wilhelm II of Prussia appointed Alzheimer as professor of psychiatry at the University of Breslau. It was during his train ride to his new post that he fell ill. He never fully recovered from his illness and it ultimately contributed to his death three years later from cardiac failure at the age of 51.

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More than 75 years after his death, some medical professionals raised questions regarding his findings and reviewed his notes and papers to develop their own hypotheses. Some critics questioned whether Deter did indeed have the disease named for Alzheimer rather than other similar, albeit rare conditions. In 1998, the original microscope slides from the autopsy of Deter’s brain were rediscovered and based on studying those slides, it was confirmed that Deter’s postmortem diagnosis was, in fact, correct.

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