Auguste Deter is the First Person Diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease

On November 4th, 1906, during a lecture at the 37th Conference of South-West German Psychiatrists in Tübingen, the German neuropathologist and psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer described “eine eigenartige Erkrankung der Hirnrinde” (a peculiar disease of the cerebral cortex). In the lecture, he dicussed “the case of a patient who was kept under close observation during institutionalisation at the Frankfurt Hospital and whose central nervous system had been given to me by director Sioli for further examination”. This was the first documented case of the form of dementia that would subsequently bear Alzheimer’s name.

In 1901, Alzheimer observed a patient at the Frankfurt Asylum named Mrs. Auguste Deter. The 51-year-old patient had strange behavioral symptoms, including a loss of short-term memory. This patient would become his obsession over the coming years. In April 1906, Mrs. Deter died and Alzheimer had the patient records and the brain brought to Munich where he was working at Kraepelin's lab. Together with two Italian physicians, he would use the staining techniques to identify amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. A speech given on 3 November 1906 would be the first time the pathology and the clinical symptoms of presenile dementia would be presented together. Through extremely fortunate circumstances the original microscope preparations on which Alzheimer based his description of the disease were rediscovered some years ago in Munich and his findings could thus be reevaluated.

Later in 1906, Alois Alzheimer presented the results of the autopsy of Frau Deter's brain to the South-West German Society of Alienists. In his speech he described two abnormalities or the patient's brain, neurofribrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, the plaques and tangles that have become synonymous with Alzheimer's disease.

The tangles are insoluble aggregates of tau protein. Plaques (known as senile plaques) are deposits of another protein, amyloids. It is still not completely clear what role these two proteins play in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease, it is commonly agreed that there is an association, since these plaques and tangles are present in all cases of the condition.