In A Human Moment

Miscellany from the 19th century

Dementia Praecox

 

 

 

 

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Dementia praecox (a “premature dementia” or “precocious madness”) refers to a chronic, deteriorating psychotic disorder characterized by rapid cognitive disintegration, usually beginning in the late teens or early adulthood. It is a term first used in 1891 in this Latin form by Arnold Pick (1851–1924), a professor of psychiatry at the German branch of Charles University in Prague. His brief clinical report described the case of a person with a psychotic disorder resembling hebephrenia. It was popularized by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856–1926) in 1893, 1896 and 1899 in his first detailed textbook descriptions of a condition that would eventually be reframed into a substantially different disease concept and relabeled as schizophrenia.

“…Noll refers to dementia praecox ‘as a diagnosis of hopelessness from its creation.” The public along with alienists and other medical authorities viewed dementia praecox as “the terminal cancer of mental diseases.'”

“Beginning in 1896, as one American asylum after another slowly introduced dementia praecox as a diagnostic box, it became the most frequently diagnosed condition, labeling a quarter to a half of all patients in each institution. How American psychiatrists were making this diagnosis is anyone’s guess—they were probably just snap decisions based on whether someone was suffering from a “good prognosis madness” (such as manic depression) or a “bad prognosis madness” (dementia praecox). What we do know is that being young and male made it more likely someone would receive this diagnosis.” Noll

Further Reading
Further Reading
Further Reading

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