Auguste Deter was 51 years old when she was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Frankfurt, Germany in 1901. Upon admission, Auguste was struggling with a slew of psychiatric symptoms. She was disoriented, experienced auditory hallucinations, and had severe memory deficits. Her condition was unlike that of any other patient at the hospital. Deter caught the interest of her psychiatrist who maintained incredibly detailed notes regarding her deterioration up until she died four-and-a-half years later. Stymied by the progression of her disease, her doctor, Alois Alzheimer, took histological samples of her brain postmortem (Benjamin et al., 2020; Hippius & Neundörfer, 2003).
Under a microscope, he found plaques (that would later be identified as beta-amyloid) throughout her brain. This finding had incredible implications. For the first time, physical, pathological, abnormalities were found in a mentally ill patient, blending the lines between the mental and physical world (Although, Alzheimer still maintained that these plaques were likely an “accompanying feature” of the condition, rather than a cause). His detailed behavioral and neurophysiological examinations of Deter assisted him in providing a groundbreaking case report on what would later be termed “Alzheimer’s Disease” (Benjamin et al., 2020; Davis & Chisholm, 1999).
I’d like to take a second to shift the focus away from Alzheimer and onto Ms. Deter. She is known as the first documented case of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, but she was much more than that. She was a seamstress, a wife, and a mother (Page & Fletcher, 2006). Her condition robbed her of the later portion of her life and that is a tragedy. While her case has been integral to the identification of Alzheimer’s Disease, it is also a reminder of why we continue to research the condition. By working around the clock, scientists are forging ahead toward a future free of Alzheimer’s; A future where men and women like Auguste can live full and happy lives.