Dementia or not dementia

Auguste Deter died on the 8 April 1906, aged 55, after spending the last years of her life in a psychiatric hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. A photo of her from 1902, after she was institutionalised, shows a woman in a white gown, in a messy bed with her knees drawn up to her chest.

She isn’t looking at the camera, and looks lost and bereft. Deter was admitted to hospital because she had a paranoid suspicion that her husband was having an affair, and her memory was starting to decline. During the last years of her life, Alois Alzheimer was her doctor and he took copious notes. After her death, he performed an autopsy on her brain and identified the amyloid plaques and filament tangles that define the disease from which Deter had suffered, and he gave it his name.

The name Alzheimer lives on, and much is known about his life, but Deter has been reduced to her medical notes, written by others, a record of her losing her words, her knowledge of herself and her ability to describe her identity.

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