Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (a brain disorder that seriously affects the person’s memory, intellectual, or thinking abilities as well as interferes with social and/or occupational functioning) that occurs in the elderly. Occurring in 60 to 70% of people with dementia above the age of 65, Alzheimer’s disease is classified as progressive, which means that its symptoms grow worse over time. Basically, the disease gradually robs the sufferers of their ability to think and function, and may even reduce lifespan.
The Alzheimer’s history began in the early 1900s – in 1906, to be exact. That year, Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915), a German physician well-known for his extensive work in neuropathology and histopathology with other big names in science, marked the Alzheimer’s history by describing a condition of a certain middle aged patient of his.
The patient, named Auguste Deter, was only 55 years old when she died for reasons that puzzled her attending physicians, including Alzheimer himself. Her condition involved progressive problems with memory, language, and behavior. Little did anyone know that it would be her death that would signal the beginning of the Alzheimer’s history.
After the death of Auguste D., Alzheimer, who was in Munich at the time, studied her brain to determine what the factors that caused her symptoms to appear were. There he found two changes in the tissue of the brain. During the course of the Alzheimer’s history, these two changes would later become the essential features of this brain disease.
First are the tangles. Called Neurofibrillary tangles, these formations are intracellular abnormalities involving the cytoplasm of the nerve cell. In order to see them, one would have to use hematoxylin and eosin stain or through silver impregnation techniques, as well as Congo red or fluorescent dye thioflavine. These abnormalities are generally found in the cerebral cortex, especially in the temporal lobe structures such s the hippocampus and amygdale.
The second change that Alzheimer noticed is the neuritic plaques. In the Alzheimer’s history, it has been found that these neuritic plaques are actually made up of protein called amyloid, which is naturally found in the body. But for reasons yet unknown, large deposits of this protein are formed between the nerve cells. Later, it was also discovered that the plaques also contained deposits of aluminum silicate, in addition to amyloid peptides, hence the term “amyloid plaques.” This, along neurofibrillary tangles, are said to cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Years after Alzheimer first described these essential features of the disease, scientists have gained greater insight into the genetic factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. In this period of Alzheimer’s history, it has been found that there is a form of the disease that is mostly hereditary – that is, it is passed from one family member to another via their genetic makeup.
But much is still to be learned about Alzheimer’s history before any real conclusions can be made. And at present, the research on Alzheimer’s disease is more focused on finding ways to prevent the onset of the symptoms.