Auguste Deter (May 16, 1849 – June 8, 1906) is the first person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her maiden name is unknown. She married Karl Deter in the 1880s and together they had one daughter. Auguste had a normal life. However, during the late 1890s, she started showing symptoms of dementia, such as: loss of memory, delusions, and even temporary vegetative states. She would have trouble sleeping, would drag sheets across the house, and even scream for hours in the middle of the night.
Karl could not take it any more. Being a railway worker, he had to admit her to a mental institution so that he could continue to work. He brought her to the Institution for the Mentally Ill and for Epileptics in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 25, 1901 where she was examined by Dr. Alois Alzheimer. He asked her many questions, and later asked again to see if she remembered. He told her to write her name. She tried to, but would forget the rest and repeat: “I am lost.” (German: “Ich hab mich verloren.”) He later put her in an isolation room for a while. When he released her, she would run out screaming, “I do not cut myself. I will not cut myself.” Her words have been commemorated in an important work, commissioned by the Susquehanna Valley Chorale, composed by Robert Cohen and librettist Herschel Garfein, entitled “Alzheimer Stories”.
After many years, she became completely demented, muttering to herself. She died on June 8, 1906. More than a century later, her case was re-examined with modern medical technologies, where a genetic cause was found for her disease by scientists from Gießen and Sydney. The results were published in the journal The Lancet Neurology. According to this paper, a mutation in the PSEN1 gene was found, which alters the function of gamma secretase, and is a known cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.