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Today in STEM -- June 14

Today in 1864, Alois Alzheimer, who studied and lent his name to the most common form of dementia, was born. 

A psychiatrist and neuropathologist by training, Alzheimer was born in Bavaria and studied at several German universities before eventually graduating from Wurzberg University. A colleague of Emil Kraepelin, one of the fathers of modern psychiatry, he worked at an asylum for women suffering from mental disorders. There he met Auguste Deter who, while in middle age, was suffering from delusions and confusion without an apparent cause. He became fascinated and, when she died five years later, he had her brain brought to his new lab. There, he and a few colleagues found that her cerebral cortex was thinner than normal, and that senile plaque , previously seen only in extremely elderly patients, as well as fibrous tangles, were found in her brain. This became the basis for his most famous paper, on "pre-senile dementia." After his death at age 51, the disease was subsequently named for him.

Today there are approximately 26.6 million people suffering from Alzheimer's nationwide. From a scientific-research perspective, Alzheimer's is still a bit of a black box -- for instance, the cause is still largely unknown and a definitive diagnosis is still not possible until after death, when doctors perform the same check for plaques and tangles that Alzheimer did 110 years ago. Medications and treatments still focus on alleviating symptoms, rather than curing causes. In 2013, treatment of the disease will cost the nation $203 billion to cover health care and hospice. Family members of those suffering from Alzheimer's will provide 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to their friends and relatives, valued at $216 billion. The U.S. also spends an addition $480 million on research of the disease. 



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