Where did Alzheimer’s disease come from? How can we use that information to help those affected by it? Learning about the history of Alzheimer’s disease can help us understand its origins and envision a future where a cure is possible.
The History of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes of dementia for seniors. Learning about the science behind Alzheimer’s can illuminate its impact on the human brain and help us see how a cure may someday be possible. What is the history of Alzheimer’s, and what does that tell us about the future of the condition?
Discovering Alzheimer’s Disease
Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s disease in 1906. A young clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Alzheimer was interested in understanding the connections between conditions that could affect the brain and resultant mental illness. One of the patients under his care began to exhibit symptoms of forgetfulness and emotional distress we would now associate with Alzheimer’s. These symptoms progressed until she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she eventually passed away. After her passing, Dr. Alzheimer decided to study her brain for evidence of an underlying condition and found the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Alzheimer’s work was not met with great enthusiasm at the time, but the scientific community soon understood the importance of his discovery.
Understanding the Condition
Once the markers of Alzheimer’s were identifiable, clinical researchers were able to start learning more about the disease.
Alzheimer’s is commonly identified by plaques and neurofibril tangles in the brain. However, the correlation between these markers and what we now understand as Alzheimer’s took some time to establish. Since the patient Dr. Alzheimer discovered the disease in was not a senior when she first came under his treatment, it was unclear to researchers that the condition was related to aging. However, further research showed that the majority of seniors who experienced dementia before death had neurological evidence of these markers, which helped scientists make the connection between Alzheimer’s and aging in the 1960s. By the 1970s, the connection between aging and dementia caused by Alzheimer’s markers was finally accepted as a scientific fact. And with that knowledge, the quest for a cure began.
Early Detection and Effective Treatments
Understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s opened up a new world of possibilities for scientists seeking a cure. Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Alzheimer’s research focused on finding ways to manipulate the brain chemistry affected by the disease. While this research did not result in a cure, it did lead to several medical interventions that can slow the progression of the disease in a limited fashion.
The most critical breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research history occurred in 2011, when experts were able to identify the “phases” of Alzheimer’s disease for the first time. Instead of treating and diagnosing Alzheimer’s as simple senior dementia, research revealed a vital “pre-phase” of Alzheimer’s where symptoms are not fully expressed, but the disease is still present and diagnosable. By focusing medical intervention on the pre-phase of Alzheimer’s, researchers have found multiple brain-health-related therapies and medicines that can slow the progression of the disease and preserve brain function.
The Future of Alzheimer’s
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, the experts agree that the discovery of an Alzheimer’s pre-phase provides us with a real possibility that a cure can be found. The history of Alzheimer’s is complex, but a future without it is now finally in sight.
If you or a loved one are struggling to understand the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, you aren’t alone. The Beach House provides compassionate care for those with Alzheimer’s, including our Memory Care community. If you need information, please reach out.
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