Alois Alzheimers Life

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Alois Alzheimer was born on June 14,1864, in Marktbreit, a small town in lower Fran-conia on the Main river in Bavaria, southern Germany. His father was a Royal Bavarian

1 Department of Psychiatry Psychosomatic and Psychotherapy, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-

University, Heinrich Hoffmann Str. 10, 60528 Frankfurt, Germany

* From: Concepts of Alzheimer Diseasae, Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives; Eds. Peter J. Whithehouse, Konrad Maurer, Jesse Ballenger (2000) The John Hopkins University Press Baltimore and London. pp 5-29

Jucker et al.

Alzheimer: 100 Years and Beyond © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Fig. 1. Alois Alzheimer 1884 as a member of the Franconia fraternity in Würzburg

Alois Alzheimers

Notary. When he graduated from high school in the district capital of Aschaffenburg, Alzheimer's teachers certified that he was "excellent in the sciences." Science was also his hobby. Alzheimer studied medicine in Berlin, Würzburg, and Tübingen. He returned to Würzburg, where he graduated in 1888 after writing a doctoral dissertation, "On the Ceruminal Glands of the Ear." His doctoral adviser was the famous swiss-born physiologist Albert Koelliker. Alzheimer completed his state medical exams in the same year (Fig. 1).

After graduation Alzheimer worked for a short period in Koelliker's histologic laboratory in Würzburg. The young Alzheimer quite likely acquainted himself with the topical problems of the microscopic construction of the nervous system and was involved in the neurohistologic discussions oft that time.

In 1888 Alzheimer went to Frankfurt to work in the Municipality Asylum for the Mentally Sick and Epileptics, directed by Dr. Emil Sioli, an open-minded, liberal psychiatrist (Fig. 2). The young Alzheimer, at this time assistant house-officer, continued to be very fond of working with the microscope, a fascination that remained with him all his life. He was especially interested in researching the cortex of the human brain.

At the turn of the century, the number of mentally ill patients was increasing rapidly in Germany as elsewhere. Sexually transmitted diseases were widespread, and the number of patients with neuropsychiatric complications of progressive paralysis was increasing. In this atmosphere Alzheimer gained abundant practice as a psychiatrist. He was in close contact with his patients and "wanted to help psychiatry with the microscope" (Kraepelin 1924).

Fig. 2. Municipality Asylum for the mentally sick and epileptics

Dr. Franz Nissl, Alzheimer's superior, who had arrived in Frankfurt in April 1889, discovered better tissue-staining techniques. Nissl and Alzheimer became friends and close colleagues. During the day they worked together in the hospital, and in the evening they sat side by side in the laboratory doing research and discussing their results. Alzheimer believed that clinical practice and laboratory research complemented each other. "Why should not the physician improve his competence by enlarging scientific knowledge of psychiatry besides doing his daily clinical practice?" he once wrote (Maurer and Maurer 1998).

In 1894 Alzheimer married Cecilie Geisenheimer, nee Wallerstein, a wealthyjewish widow. They had three children: Gertrud (who married the psychiatrist Georg Stertz), Hans, and Maria (Fig. 3). When his young wife died in 1901, Alzheimer's younger sister, Maria, came to take care of the three children. As a result of his marriage, Alzheimer had gained considerable financial independence.

While in Frankfurt, Alzheimer expressed the desire to have a position in which he could combine research and clinical practice. In 1895 Alzheimer's friend Nissl moved to Heidelberg, where Emil Kraepelin held the chair of psychiatry. Kraepelin heard of Alzheimer's application for the post of managing director of a mental asylum. Being exclusively a research scientist, Kraepelin did not think much of this idea. Instead, Kraepelin invited Alzheimer to come to Heidelberg to write his "Habilitationsschrift." Alzheimer accepted and completed his research project under Kraepelin's supervision. In 1903 Alzheimer followed Kraepelin to Munich, where Kraepelin had recendy been appointed director of the Nervenklinik.

In Munich Alzheimer was appointed head of the neuroanatomic laboratory, which became an important center for brain research. He was joined by a number of renowned psychiatrists and neuropathologists, including Gaetano Perusini, Francesco Bonfiglio, Ugo Cerletti, Alfons Jakob, Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt, Nicolas Achucarro, Karl Kleist, and Smith Ely Jeliffe. Alzheimer and his co-workers completed thousands of microscopic preparations (Fig. 4).

Creutzfeldt Hans Gerhard

Fig. 3. Photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Alzheimer and the Children Hans, Maria and Gertrud

Alzheimer's research interests were wide-ranging. During his years in Frankfurt and Munich, he published about seventy papers. He finished his inaugural dissertation, "Histological Studies on the Differential Diagnosis of Progressive Paralysis," in Munich in 1904. This work was based on 320 postmortem cases he had collected in Frankfurt. In addition to dementia of vascular and degenerative origins, Alzheimer was interested in areas such as forensic psychiatry, delirium, mental deficiency, indications for induced abortion in mentally ill women, and histopathology of psychoses.

The Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Breslau in Silesia appointed Alzheimer chair of the Department of Psychiatry and director of the University Psychiatric Clinic on July 16,1912. He viewed the post as the fulfillment of his scientific and academic aims (Fig. 5). On his way to Breslau, which was then in East Germany (though today it is Wroclaw, in Poland), Alzheimer caught a severe and persistent cold, which developed

Cecilie Geisenheimer

Fig. 4. Scientific co-workers of Alzheimer

Last row from left to right: Lotmar (1), Rosenthal (3), Allers (4), Alzheimer (6), Achucarro (7), Lewy (8) Sitting: Grombach (1), Cerletti (2), Binfiglio (4), Perusini (5)

Fig. 4. Scientific co-workers of Alzheimer

Last row from left to right: Lotmar (1), Rosenthal (3), Allers (4), Alzheimer (6), Achucarro (7), Lewy (8) Sitting: Grombach (1), Cerletti (2), Binfiglio (4), Perusini (5)

into subacute bacterial endocarditis. He never recovered completely. On December 19, 1915, during the second winter of World War I, Alois Alzheimer died in a uremic coma. He had not reached his fifty-second birthday. His body was transferred to Frankfurt and was laid to rest at the principal cemetery next to his wife, who had been buried there on February 28,1901 (Fig. 6).

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