“i have lost myself” -- 11/22/23
Today's selection -- from The Brain: An Illustrated History of Neuroscience by Tom Jackson. The first diagnosis of what we now call Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, was documented in 1901:
“In 1901, Alois Alzheimer met a 46-year-old patient in Frankfurt, Germany. She was unable to write her name, saying: ‘I have lost myself’. This was the first person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
“The term ‘dementia’ refers to the gradual loss of intellect, memory, and a sense of self. It is associated with old age and takes many years to develop. As good healthcare and healthy lifestyles act to increase the average age of the world's population, dementia is likely to become much more prevalent. About a quarter of dementia sufferers have vascular dementia, where the blood supply to the brain, especially to the frontal lobes, is gradually diminished through a series of ministrokes. Nearly all of the rest suffer from Alzheimer's disease, named for the German doctor who met that patient, named Auguste Deter, all those years ago. Alzheimer followed the progress of his patient for the next five years until she died. Auguste grew increasingly confused. She was able to identify objects but soon forgot what they were or that she had even been shown anything. Eventually, she became incontinent and bedridden, largely because she had no desire to get up. Sufferers eventually lose the ability to speak, but still have emotional responses. The muscles begin to waste due to inactivity, and eventually the weakened sufferer dies from an infection.
|Diagram of a normal brain compared to the brain of a person with Alzheimer's
“Initially, Alzheimer's was regarded as something different to the natural senility of old age. Auguste Deter died when just 55. However, her case is now recognized as having a particularly early onset and had the same cause as the dementia that affects older people. The disease has a strong genetic component, there is no infection causing it, and there are still many theories about the biochemical causes. Without a cure, prevention techniques seem to be the best course of action. Although proof is patchy, it appears that doing regular, stringent mental activity--anything from playing a board game and performing music to reading a book or meeting friends--helps to maintain the cognitive abilities of the brain and fend off Alzheimer's disease.”