Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer

Because we love alliteration here, meet Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer, born June 14, 1864 in Marktbreit, Bavaria, Southern Germany.

Alois Alzheimer

Alois Alzheimer

He excelled in the sciences at school, where he studied medicine in Berlin. First at Ashaffenburg (no, it’s not a chocolate), Tubingen then Wurzburg, where he graduated with a medical degree.

After graduation, he spent five months working with mentally ill women before beginning his career at the state asylum, the Asylum for Lunatics and Epileptics (What does that say about epileptics of that time?). While there, Alzheimer co-founder and co-publisher the journal Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie. (Gesundheit—oh wait, maybe that wasn’t a sneeze.)

Another noted neurologist, Franz Nissl, began work in the same asylum with Alzheimer. They worked together on a major six volume study, the “Histologic and Histopathologic Studies of the Cerebral Cortex,” describing the pathology of the nervous system.  Much of Alzheimer’s later work on brain pathology made use of Nissl’s method of silver staining of the histolological sections.

This one is for our resident brain scientist. A Nissl stained sample of a mouse hippocampus show neurons and glia. (I don't know what I just said there.)

This one is for our resident brain scientist. A Nissl stained sample of a mouse hippocampus showing neurons and glia. (I don’t know what I just said there.)

By 1901, Dr. Alzheimer noticed a patient at the asylum named, Auguste Deter. She was 51-years-old and exhibited strange behavioral symptoms, which included short-term memory loss.  She showed signs of disorientation, hallucinations—symptoms previously only encountered in the elderly. She would become his obsession.

In 1903 he became the research assistant to Emil Kreapelin at the Munich Medical School. Once there, he created a new laboratory for brain research.

In 1906 at the age of 55, Mrs. Deter died and the asylum sent Dr. Alzheimer her medical records and her brain.  The post-mortem analysis of her brain displayed various abnormalities. Because of Alzheimer’s access to the Nissl stain, he was able to identify the senile plaque along with neurofibrillary tangles which had never before been described.

It was his speech on this finding on November 3, 1906, which was the first time ‘presenile’ dementia, as he called it, was described. And Kreapelin published a textbook calling the condition Alzheimer’s Disease which made Alzheimer’s name famous. By 1911 European physicians were using Alzheimer’s description of the disease to diagnose patients in the U.S.

He died on December 19, 1915 at the age of 51 from a heart attack caused by complications of catching a severe cold on a train to Bresalu, Silesia, Prussia (now called Wroclaw, Poland) while traveling to take up a new research position. He is buried next to his wife, Cecile, in the Hauptfriedhof in Frankfurt am Main.

The Alzheimers' grave in Frankfort am Main.

The Alzheimers’ grave in Frankfurt am Main.

Today, the pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is still generally based on the same investigative methods used in 1906. Considering the advancements in modern medicine in the last hundred years, that says something about the detail of his work.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom

About Fannie Cranium

Writing since she could first hold a pen, Tracy Perkins formed her alter ego, "Fannie Cranium" at the suggestion of her husband. Tracy understands smiling makes people wonder what she’s been up to.
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24 Responses to Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer

  1. ksbeth says:

    just trying to remember his own name without confusion would cause him to think he had alzheimer’s

  2. Reblogged this on Fannie Cranium's and commented:

    The man behind the discovery of the disease. Meet Alois Alzheimer, this month’s contribution to the Blog of Funny Names.

  3. Arto says:

    When you said that thing about the neurofibrillary tangles, I have to say I know exactly what you’re talking about, Fannie! Don’t you hate it when your neurofibrillaries get all tangled? It’s literally the worst! Oh lordie me, what a mess.

    Great choice of topic! We love our Aloysiuses around here.

  4. Dave says:

    Fanny, I can’t express how much I love you for talking about neurofibrillary tangles and Nissl stains! This is my favorite type of scientific research – great choice for a subject!

  5. Liz says:

    trying to play up to the boss man, Fannie, what with the brain-related topic and all? angling for a raise? haha, you done good. Never even thought to think why Alzheimer’s is called Alzheimer’s. Now I know thanks to you and your most excellent research. Hope it all means you’re feeling much better.

    p.s. does this mean I’m up next week? Wha’? Seems I just wrote something. Off to find a funny food name now…

  6. amb says:

    Fantastic post as usual, Fannie! Love the caption to your second photo. I never know what I’m saying when our resident brain scientist is around, either. 😉

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