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J Hist Neurosci. 2014;23(1):85-94. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2013.809297.

A short history of the notion of neurodegenerative disease.

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a University Medical Centre , Utrecht , The Netherlands.


The notion of heredity of degenerative constitutions of human beings contributed in the nineteenth century to the fear for deterioration of the human race and in the twentieth century to attempts by several Western Countries, particularly Germany, to improve the inborn qualities of their populations by eugenic measures. In the years following World War II, the term eugenics was eradicated from medicine. The qualification degenerative disappeared from genetics and psychiatry but remained in use to denote decay of tissues and cells. The adjective neurodegenerative came in vogue in neurology and was mostly applied to brain diseases. Definitions in the literature indicate that neurodegenerative diseases are considered as to be age related, incurable, and largely untreatable chronic progressive diseases of the central nervous system. Scrutiny of available data shows that the notion concerns an ill-defined group of genetic and idiopathic disorders. Genetic central nervous system diseases may become manifest at all ages and are accessible for symptomatic treatment. Investigations of animal models suggest that not all neurodegenerative diseases are inherently incurable. Alternatives for the terms neurodegenerative and degenerative are available.

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