Tuesday Tips for Caregivers – A Brief History of Alzheimer’s Disease
The brain disease that has come to be known as Alzheimer’s disease was first described in November of 1901. The chain of events began when Karl Deter brought his wife, Auguste, to the Städtische Heilanstalt für Irre und Epileptische (City Hospital for the Mentally Ill and Epileptics) in Frankfurt, Germany.
- Alzheimer’s First Described
Alzheimer’s disease is named after German doctor Alois Alzheimer. He described the symptoms of a patient known as Auguste D. in 1906. Those symptoms included memory loss, strange behavior, and shrinkage in the patient’s brain. Psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, Dr. Alzheimer’s colleague, coined the term “Alzheimer’s disease” in a 1910 medical book.
- NIA Established
Congress established the National Institute on Aging (NIA) as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1974. The mission of the NIA is to better understand the nature of aging and to promote a greater quality of life among older adults. The NIA is also the federal government’s primary source for funding and conducting Alzheimer’s disease research.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Challenge Defined
In 1976, the neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman declared AD the most common form of dementia and a substantial public health challenge in an editorial. This brought awareness to the disease and helped launch many brain-related research projects through the NIA.
- Association Formed
Jerome Stone and other members of AD family support groups met with the NIA in 1979. This group would go on to become what is now the Alzheimer’s Association. Stone became the association’s first president when it formed in 1980. The goals of the group were to:
- Help provide services to families affected by Alzheimer’s disease
- Push for more federal research on the disease
- Proteins Identified
The main markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain are high amounts of two proteins: beta-amyloid and tau. Beta-amyloid was discovered in 1984. Two years later, tangles of tau were discovered in AD patients. Both proteins may cause brain cell damage. Researchers don’t know yet if high levels of tau and beta-amyloid cause AD, or if they’re just symptoms of it.
- First Drug Trial
The NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association teamed up with the Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company (now known as Pfizer) in 1987. They started the first clinical trial of a drug designed to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally approved the drug tacrine in 1993. Four more Alzheimer’s drugs were approved during the next decade.
- Reagan Diagnosed
Former President Ronald Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer’s on November 5, 1994. He was 83. Reagan became one of the first well-known figures with the disease. His announcement drew greater public attention to the disease. Many experts weighed in on the differences between usual age-related forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s. Reagan died in 2004 from pneumonia and complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
- Genetic Study Begins
In 2003, the Alzheimer’s Association and the NIA started accepting people in the National Alzheimer’s Disease Genetic Study. The federal government funds the study. Researchers take and store blood samples from people in families with more than one member with Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of the ongoing study is to find genes that may make someone more likely to get Alzheimer’s.
- Major Legislation
President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) in 2011. NAPA was the first law to outline a national strategy for research and care of people with Alzheimer’s. The act also addresses support for people caring for Alzheimer’s patients. A year later, the National Alzheimer’s Plan was released. It set a goal of creating Alzheimer’s disease prevention methods by 2025.
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