Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff
Biography of Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff
Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff was the first of the great Russian psychiatrist. He was born on the Gus Estate, a locality known for its glass-making factory, of which his father was the manager. He studied medicine at the University of Moscow, graduated in 1875 and subsequently became physician to Preobrazhenskii mental hospital. From 1876 to 1879 he gained postgraduate experience in the clinic for nervous diseases under Aleksei Yakolevich Kolzhevnikoff (1836-1902). His thesis Alcoholoc Paraylsis won him the medical doctorate in 1887. He was habilitated as Privatdozent in 1888 and in 1892 he was appointed superintendent of a new university psychiatric clinic and professor extraordinarius. During this time he visited Vienna where he was a pupil of Theodor Meynert. He was ordinarius of neurology and psychiatry from 1899 until his death the next year.
Korsakoff was one of the greatest psychiatrists of the 19th century and published numerous works in neuropathology, psychiatry, and forensic medicine. Apart from his studies on alcoholic psychosis he introduced the concept of paranoia and wrote an excellent textbook on psychiatry.
Korsakoff had ample opportunity to study the effects of alcoholism. In 1887 and again in 1890 he drew attention to several cases of alcoholic polyneuritis with distinctive mental symptoms. “This mental disorder,” he said, “appears at times in the form of sharply delineated irritable weakness in the mental sphere, at times in the form of confusion with characteristic mistakes in orientation for place, time and situation, and at times as an almost pure form of acute amnesia, where the recent memory is well preserved . . . . Some have suffered so widespread a memory loss that they literally forget everything immediately.”
Korsakoff was the first to give a clear account of paranoia
Korsakoff was a leader in more humane patient management with his use of no restraint principles. This was not popular with hospital personnel. «The less restraint for the patient, the more restraint for the doctor», and as a result the doctor must «give more attention and devotion to the patient». Korsakoff’s humanitarianism may be traced to his boyhood. When only eleven he wrote: “Help others. When the occasion presents itself to do good deeds, do them. Withdraw from evil.”
He deplored the fact that students had to waste their energies obtaining the bare necessities of life when they should be concentrating on their studies, and as a chairman of “The Society for Aid to Needy Students,” he did much to alleviate their financial difficulties. But he also clearly indicated what he expected of students: “First of all I wish that all students recognise the absolute necessity for education; that they deeply love science and knowledge, and that they despise ignorance . . . . For the great privilege of being educated, students must be ready to sacrifice, even to pay with their lives if necessary, for the good of the country and for the ideals of mankind.»
One of Korsakoff’s pupils was Serbskii, who at a meeting of Russian psychiatrists in 1911, achieved fame for his attack on the government for its disregard of the social services. Reforms soon followed.
An able organiser, Korsakoff was instrumental in founding in 1890 the Moscow Society of Neuropathologists and Psychiatrists. In his opening address, he laid down as the basic principle for each member, “to further scientific knowledge without being concerned who will be first to reach a scientific achievement.”
A high point in his career was the organisation of the 12th International Medical Congress, which was held in Moscow in 1897. H then set out to achieve a lifelong ambition, to establish a Russian Association of Psychiatrists and Neurologists that would have national scope. He worked out the constitution in all details, but worn by the intensity of his striving he died, at the age of forty six, just before the Association came into being.
By acclamation the Zhurnal nevropatologii i psikhiatrii was named after him.