A Quick Review of the History of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia
History of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

A Quick Review of the History of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

When learning about the history of Alzheimer’s disease it is important to know the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Simply put, dementia is a term used to characterize a set of cognitive symptoms; Alzheimer’s is only one disease that can cause dementia. Continue reading to learn more about the history of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Auguste Deter Was the First Diagnosed Case of Alzheimer’s disease

Auguste Deter was only 50 years old when her spouse — Karl Deter— noticed a decline with her memory. Shortly after, Auguste’s symptoms increased; she showed signs of aggression, paranoia, and fear. This required her husband to admit her into the Mentally Ill and Epileptics psychiatric hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. Upon her admission, a young resident named Aloysius Alzheimer interviewed Auguste.

Dr. Alzheimer joined the hospital 13 years previously and was pursuing his interests in neuropathology and psychiatry. Because Auguste displayed problems with reading, writing, memory, and demonstrated signs of disorientation, she was diagnosed with presenile dementia.

After her death in 1906, Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer presented the autopsy results of Mrs. Deter’s brain to the South-West German Society of Alienists. He distinctly described two abnormalities in her brain:

At Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, we are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. While other facilities focus only on one stage of the disease, we provide. Our programs are based on the latest research and feature preventative interventions, such as brain-healthy nutrition, increased aerobic activity, and other types of healthy lifestyle interventions.
  • Amyloid plaques, and
  • Neurofibrillary tangles

While it seems odd today, Dr. Alzheimer’s initial presentation in 1906 that linked this specific pathology to a clinical disorder was met with limited enthusiasm by his peers. Today, these tangles and plaques have become parallel with Alzheimer’s disease.

When Was “Alzheimer’s Disease” First Used?

“Senile dementia” was thought to be the result of vascular disease related to age. However, Auguste Deter was young at the beginning of her disease, thus, Alzheimer’s disease was considered to be “presenile dementia.” As Dr. Alzheimer’s research continued, he noticed the same tangles and plaques were present in the brains of many other adults suffering with symptoms of dementia.

Dr. Alzheimer later published descriptions of many other patients in 1909. On July 15, 1910, eminent psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin published the second volume of the German book General Psychiatry. Even though it was published by Kraepelin, it resulted in the preservation of another doctor’s name and was the first time a type of dementia was called “Alzheimer's disease.”

The Endless Search for Causes and Cures

The search for the causes of Alzheimer’s disease started with Dr. Alzheimer and continues today. In the late 1970’s, researchers explained a “cholinergic hypothesis” of Alzheimer’s Disease, which attributed to a neurotransmitter acetylcholine deficit. This small chemical messenger is critical for proper memory function.

The theory promoted trials of medicines designed to bolster acetylcholine levels in the brain by either blocking the destruction of it or bolstering its production. This theory introduced the FDA-approved cholinesterase inhibitors, which are still used today. Common examples of this medicinal therapy includes:

  • Galantamine
  • Rivastigmine
  • Donepezil

Fortunately, this hypothesis has delivered medicines that produce mild symptom-reducing efforts. However, it has no real effect on the progression of the disease.

Another type of FDA-approved medication, memantine, is believed to work differently. This medicine works by stabilizing the functioning of the glutamate system. Similar to cholinesterase inhibitors, memantine is designed to relieve symptoms instead of modifying the progression of the disease.

A New Definition of Alzheimer’s Disease – Early Detection and Prevention

In 2011, new clinical research concluded that Alzheimer’s disease is no longer considered a pathological process that turns into a clinical disease over the years.

The new model of Alzheimer’s disease defines the disease in stages, which reframed the nature of the conversation. The stages include:

By focusing on the pathology of the disease instead of the symptoms, new techniques have emerged and promote the notion that early detection and intervention in the earliest stages may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, focusing on the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease encourages preventative interventions, such as increased aerobic activity, management of chronic medical illnesses affecting brain health, attention to healthy brain nutrition, and restorative sleep.

Contact Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation

At Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, we are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. While other facilities focus only on one stage of the disease, we provide innovative services and programming to specifically address each stage. Our programs are based on the latest research and feature preventative interventions, such as brain-healthy nutrition, increased aerobic activity, and other types of healthy lifestyle interventions.

About the Author Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation

At the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF) our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and their caregivers. We actively work to achieve this mission through research-based programming for all stages of Alzheimer’s, Caregiver Support Groups, in-home respite solutions, transportation options, and additional services.

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