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Who is Dr Alois Alzheimer?

Born in 1864, Dr Alois Alzheimer was a German scientist renowned for his pioneering research, publishing many papers on diseases and conditions of the brain.


After excelling in science subjects at school, Dr Alzheimer went on to study medicine in Aschaffenburg, Berlin, Tübingen and Wurzburg. Graduating in 1887 with a medical degree, he started working in Frankfurt state asylum, where he became interested in researching the human brain’s cortex. He began his training in neuropathology and psychiatry alongside asylum colleague Franz Nissl.

Alzheimer spent many years working on his six-volume, “Histologic and Histopathologic Studies of the Cerebral Cortex”, in which he described the nervous system’s pathology. The works were published between 1907 and 1918.

Brain Research

After choosing to pursue a career combining clinical practice and research, in 1903 Alzheimer took a post as research assistant to Emil Kraepelin at Munich Medical School. He created his new brain research laboratory and in 1906 gave a ground-breaking lecture that secured his place in history.

He identified what he described as an “unusual disease” of the cerebral cortex, based on a study of a woman in her 50s who was identified only as Auguste D. He described how the condition had led to disorientation, memory loss and hallucinations that led up to her death at the age of 55.

Alzheimer’s Disease Discovered

Abnormalities of the brain were revealed at the post-mortem that included a thinner than normal cerebral cortex, senile plaque normally found only in elderly people and neurofibrillary tangles. Dr Alzheimer identified the nerve tangles which had never been described before, so subsequently, Kraepelin named the newly-identified disease after him.

Personal Life

Dr Alzheimer married Cäcilia Geisenheimer in 1894 but sadly she died in 1901. The couple had three children – daughters Gertrud and Maria and son Hans, who later became an author.

In 1913, as Dr Alzheimer was due to take up a new post as chairman of the psychology department at Friedrich-Wilhelm University, Breslau, he caught a heavy cold which was complicated by endocarditis. He never fully recovered and he died in 1915 aged 51. He was buried next to his wife in the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt.

Today’s pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is still based on the same investigative method used in 1906 by Dr Alzheimer. It speaks volumes about the doctor and the high quality of his work, including his research and his discoveries which are still relevant more than a century later.

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