Clarifications in Alzheimer’s Article


Thank you for the recent articles about Alzheimer’s disease.

I believe a clarification is in order regarding a section of the first article (Hamodia Prime, Nov. 20, 2019/22 Cheshvan), on page 43:

“It’s been 118 years since Louis Alzheimer, a psychiatrist (and student of Sigmund Freud) diagnosed the first official patient with what became known as Alzheimer’s … an elderly woman stumbled into his clinic in Frankfurt, Germany …”

As there is an instance of Alzheimer’s in my family, I have recently been reading about the disease, and a variety of sources, both print and online, consistently give a different account:

– The doctor’s name was Alois, not Louis, Alzheimer.

– The patient, Auguste Deter, was not elderly, but only 51 years old at the time, and the relatively early appearance of symptoms of dementia drew attention.

– Mrs. Deter did not stumble into Dr. Alzheimer’s clinic, but was brought by her husband to the hospital where Dr. Alzheimer worked.

It is not unheard of for there to be different, perhaps inconsistent, accounts of occurrences. An error in one account might be disseminated by being quoted in subsequent writings. But it seems to me that the version presented in the article differs substantially from others (particularly with regard to Dr. Alzheimer’s name), leading me to ask on what sources it is based.

Also, the sources I have read do not refer to Dr. Alzheimer as being a student of Freud. He may well have been, but one would expect such a notable connection to be mentioned.

Is it possible to request from the author of the article citations for the points made in the paragraph quoted above?

Thank you,

Yosef Branse, Rechasim

Author’s Reply:

The name is Alois Alzheimer. Thank you.

Regarding the use of the word “elderly,” the patient was 51 years old. As the life span in 1900 had only just hit age 49, and only in Western, developed countries, she was described and seen in medical reports as “elderly.”

By “stumble” into the clinic, I did not mean that as an accident she somehow landed in the only medical clinic in the neighborhood, but as a physical description, again taken from medical reports of the way the patient walked. … We did not mention the husband, to save on word count. The story has myriad other details that were not mentioned.

Dr. Alzheimer was a former follower of Freud, as were many physicians at the time. Freud at the time was the most respected interpreter of all mental illnesses, and as Alzheimer’s did not yet exist as a diagnosis, women like Auguste were understood through the tenets of Freudian psychology. Dr. Alzheimer would turn against this form of “diagnosis,” as he strongly felt over the time he cared for her that he was dealing with a neurological condition that had little to do with psychology. It would take her death to prove that. The word student should have been follower. I apologize for the miscommunication.

The particular sources for the details above: The Lancet Medical Journal/Neurology, vol. 5; The Lancet Medical Journal/General, vol. 353; the New England Journal of Medicine, 2010 362:329-344 DOI: 10.1056; and the New York Academy of Sciences Journal, volume 802, Issue 1 (“Apolipoprotein E Genotyping in Alzheimers Disease”), among others.