Jean-Martin Charcot : biography
His work greatly influenced the developing fields of neurology and psychology. He was the "foremost neurologist of late nineteenth-century France" and has been called "the Napoleon of the neuroses".
Born in Paris, Charcot worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for 33 years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe. In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe. Charcot was a part of the French neurological tradition and studied under, and greatly revered, Duchenne de Boulogne.
"He married a rich widow, Madame Durvis, in 1862 and had two children, Jeanne and Jean-Baptiste, the latter becoming both a doctor and a famous polar explorer".
Charcot's primary focus was neurology. He named and was the first to describe multiple sclerosis. Summarizing previous reports and adding his own clinical and pathological observations, Charcot called the disease sclerose en plaques. The three signs of Multiple sclerosis now known as Charcot's triad 1 are nystagmus, intention tremor, and telegraphic speech, though these are not unique to MS. Charcot also observed cognition changes, describing his patients as having a "marked enfeeblement of the memory" and "conceptions that formed slowly". He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.
Charcot was among the first to describe Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. The disease is also sometimes called peroneal muscular atrophy.
Charcot's studies between 1868 and 1881 were a landmark in the understanding of Parkinson's disease. Among other advances he made the distinction between rigidity, weakness and bradykinesia. He also led the disease, which was formerly named paralysis agitans (shaking palsy), to be renamed on behalf of James Parkinson.
Studies on hypnosis and hysteria
Charcot is best known today, outside the community of neurologists, for his work on hypnosis and hysteria. He believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder for which patients were pre-disposed by hereditary features of their nervous system.Charcot (1889), Charcot's interest in hysteria and hypnotism "developed at a time when the general public was fascinated in 'animal magnetism' and mesmerization' ... Charcot and his school considered the ability to be hypnotized as a clinical feature of hysteria ... For the members of the Salpêtrière School, susceptibility to hypnotism was synonymous with disease, i.e. hysteria, although they later recognized ... that grand hypnotisme (in hysterics) should be differentiated from petit hypnotisme, which corresponded to the hypnosis of ordinary people".
The Salpêtrière School's position on hypnosis was sharply criticized by Hippolyte Bernheim, a leading neurologist of the time. Charcot himself long had concerns about the use of hypnosis in treatment and about its effect on patients. He also was concerned that the sensationalism hypnosis attracted had robbed it of its scientific interest,Goetz (1995), p. 211 and that the quarrel with Bernheim, furthered mostly by his pupil Georges Gilles de la Tourette, had "damaged" hypnotism.
Charcot thought of art as a crucial tool of the clinicoanatomic method. He used photos and drawings, many made by himself or his students, in his classes and conferences. He also drew outside the neurology domain, as a personal hobby. Like Duchenne, he is considered a key figure in the incorporation of photography to the study of neurological cases.
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