Did you know it’s been over 110 years since we first discovered Alzheimer’s disease? Today Alzheimer’s is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. While we’ve made a lot of progress in our understanding of this neurodegenerative disease, we’re still waiting and hoping for a cure. We encourage you to review the history of Alzheimer’s below to better understand the milestones researchers and advocates have hit in their quest to improve the lives of people affected by Alzheimer’s and to finally find a cure for this devastating disease.
The History of Alzheimer’s
A young psychiatrist, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, first described the disease in 1906. His patient, Auguste Deter, suffered from profound memory loss, paranoia, and psychological changes despite being just 50 years old. After Ms. Deter’s passing, Dr. Alzheimer studied her brain material with a microscope and found shrinkage in and around the nerve cells of her brain, revealing the presence of what we now call amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, the two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
The condition we now know as Alzheimer’s disease was first named in 1910 by Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist who worked with Dr. Alzheimer. He published the name in the eighth edition of his widely respected textbook Psychiatrie.
The electron microscope, which is capable of magnifying up to 1 million times, was invented in 1931. After WWII, this powerful tool was commonly used in scientific research and allowed for more detailed studies of brain cells.
Researchers developed cognitive measurement scales, creating a standard for assessing the cognitive and functional decline of seniors. This system also helped researchers correlate the progression of cognitive impairment with the number of brain lesions and the volume of damaged tissue in a person’s brain.
The Alzheimer’s Association – currently the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research – is founded.
November was declared National Alzheimer’s Disease Month in 1983, which revealed a greater awareness of the disease and helped inform the public further.
Researchers George Glenner and Caine Wong identified “a novel cerebrovascular amyloid protein,” or a beta-amyloid, in the blood vessels of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Also in 1984, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) began funding Alzheimer’s Disease Centers, creating a nationwide infrastructure for the research, diagnosis, and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Three important advances in the understanding of Alzheimer’s occurred in 1987. First, researchers identified tau protein, a key component of tangles. This is a major advancement in the history of Alzheimer’s because, along with plaques, tangles are one of the distinctive features of Alzheimer’s disease and may cause symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Second, the first Alzheimer’s drug trial occurred. Third, researchers identified the first gene associated with rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer’s.
Several major developments in Alzheimer’s research occurred in the ’90s:
- 1991: The NIA establishes the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS).
- 1993: The first Alzheimer’s risk factor gene is identified.
- 1993: The first Alzheimer’s drug, tacrine (Cognex), is approved by the FDA. As of 2019, there are now five drugs approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer’s.
- 1995: The first transgenic mouse model was developed, paving the way for future research.
- 1999: By injecting transgenic mouse models with beta-amyloid, researchers are successfully able to prevent them from developing plaques and other brain changes related to Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association and NIA begin the National Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Study, aiming to identify additional risk genes for the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) is established to create standards for obtaining and interpreting brain images. It also aims to identify high-risk people, provide early detection, and monitor treatment effects.
The Alzheimer’s clinical trial database is established in 2010, providing a wealth of information to qualified researchers seeking to understand the course of Alzheimer’s.
The first major clinical trial testing drug therapy for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease in high-risk individuals is initiated.
Researchers working on the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) identify 11 new genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
The federal budget for Alzheimer’s disease research increases by $400 million, making the annual funding $1.4 billion. After years of stagnant funding, this was an important boost for the research community.
As you can see by reviewing the history of Alzheimer’s, although we’ve come a long way in our understanding of Alzheimer’s in the last 110 years, we still have a long way to go.
If you or someone you love suffers from Alzheimer’s, don’t give up hope! Another breakthrough or discovery could be right around the corner . . .
If you are looking for a memory care facility in Riverview, Florida, we invite you to tour our community, meet our friendly staff, and see our amenities firsthand. Overlooking the Alafia River on twelve beautiful acres, the Crossings at Riverview offers a relaxing atmosphere, and our talented team is committed to cultivating a welcoming and vibrant community. Our goal is to make our community feel like home for all of our residents. To schedule a tour, call 813-671-0222 or contact us online. We look forward to meeting you!