Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Learning from Alzheimer's Disease

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Projects | Learning from Alzheimer's Disease | Archive of News | Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in Kraepelin’s clinic, 1909–1912

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in Kraepelin’s clinic, 1909–1912

New publication note: Current Issue of "History of Human Sciences" with an article by Lara Keuck.
  • When Apr 01, 2018 from 12:00 to 11:59
  • iCal
Titelbild: Psychopathological Fringes: Knowledge making and boundary work in 20th century psychiatry




Existing accounts of the early history of Alzheimer’s disease have focused on Alois Alzheimer’s (1864–1915) publications of two ‘peculiar cases’ of middle-aged patients who showed symptoms associated with senile dementia, and Emil Kraepelin’s (1856–1926) discussion of these and a few other cases under the newly introduced name of ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ in his Textbook of Psychiatry. This article questions the underpinnings of these accounts that rely mainly on publications and describe ‘presenility’ as a defining characteristic of the disease. Drawing on archival research in the Munich psychiatric clinic, in which Alzheimer and Kraepelin practised, this article looks at the use of the category as a diagnostic label in practice. It argues that the first cases only got their exemplary status as key referents of Alzheimer’s disease in later readings of the original publications. In the 1900s, the published cases rather functioned as material to think about the limits of the category of senile dementia. The examination of paper technologies in the Munich psychiatric clinic reveals that the use of the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was not limited to patients of a certain age and did not exclude ‘senile’ cases. Moreover, the archival records reflect that many diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease were noted in the medical records as suspicions rather than conclusions. Against this background, the article argues that in theory and practice, Alzheimer’s disease was not treated as a well-defined disease entity in the Munich clinic, but as an exploratory category for the clinical and histopathological investigation of varieties of organic brain diseases.



Lara Keuck: "Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in Kraepelin’s clinic, 1909–1912", in: History of Human Sciences 32/2 (2018), S.42-64.


The article is published in the context of a thematical issue about "Psychopathological Fringes: Knowledge making and boundary work in 20th century psychiatry".