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Germany

Alzheimer's 100 Years On

About 650,000 Germans suffer from the debilitating Alzheimer's disease. First discovered 100 years ago, there is still no known cure for it.

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Forget me not. The elderly are most succeptible to the disease and become increasingly forgetful as Alzheimer's sets in

A heated debate has broken out following the successful cloning of human embryos in the US. Some are for it, while others say it is immoral. However, the geniuses behind this technolgical breakthrough claim that it can be the answer to incurable diseases like HIV and Alzheimer's. This comes at a time when Alzheimer's celebrates its 100th birthday after its symptoms were first defined by the doctor from Germany, after whom it was named.

Alzheimer's and Frau August D

German scientist, psychologist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer first met Frau August D late November 1901 when he began treating her for a puzzling disease. There was no documentation of her bizarre illness and its symptoms, though progressive mental detoriation due to old age was commonplace.

Alzheimer recorded what he saw throughout the five years during which she was under his care. "When committed to the institution, her behavior was dominated by total helplessness. She was confused as to time and place. Occasionally she remarked that she did not understand anything and did not know her way about. At times she was delirious, and carried parts of her bed around, calling for her husband and daughter, and had auditory hallucinations. Often she screamed in a frightening voice for hours at a time," he wrote.

Frau August D died at the age of 51 from a seemingly incurable disease. This prompted the Bavarian Doctor to publish a landmark paper on the case in 1906. He stipulated that the woman’s symptoms deviated from any known disease pattern.

His report also highlighted what he found after performing an autopsy: a collection of brain cell abnormalities. In 1907 he presented his paper at a convention.

The cerebral cortex part of her brain was severely damaged. More specifically, the nerve cells in this part of the brain had dense deposits around them (plaques) while the fibers inside were twisted (tangles).

These are the signs of what is known today as Alzheimer's. It is interesting to note that despite the development of neuro-technology, Alzheimer's disease can still only be definitively diagnosed through an autopsy and the identification of the plaques and tangles which he described decades ago.

At the time, Alzheimer was a research assistant to Emil Kraeplin, a distinguished psychiatrist at the Munich medical school. It was Kraeplin who proposed naming the condition after Alzheimer.

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