27 Aug /13


Alzheimer’s disease was named after the man who first correctly diagnosed it, the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer.

After qualifying as a doctor Alzheimer worked in the Frankfurt medical asylum, where from 1901 he began observation of a patient suffering from short-term memory loss. Alzheimer made a detailed analysis of her condition until her death five years later, and then examined her brain tissue. The deceased was only 55, but Alzheimer discovered amyloid plaques previously only seen in the elderly and neurofibrillary tangles that had never before been recorded. His research was almost immediately his research was taken up in the English-speaking world, with medical journals in the UK and the USA describing Alzheimer’s disease.

The disease itself is irreversible and progressively destroys memory and thinking skills. In advanced case, the sufferer is unable to carry out even the simplest tasks and loses the ability to function independently. High-profile sufferers include Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan.

Alzheimer’s has over five million current sufferers in the United States alone with an estimated 800,000 in the UK, and these figures are forecast to rise steadily. With the majority of sufferers living in the community, the burden of care often falls upon family members and volunteers. A disease that attacks individuals and their individuality may only be countered by the collective efforts of an unselfish society.

Alois Alzheimer himself died aged only 51 but his legacy was secure. Remarkably, the modern day pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease follows the same methods he used in 1906.