For decades, researchers have been examining the development of Alzheimer’s through one particular basic model, despite the fact that not all Alzheimer’s diagnoses present with the same symptoms and progression. However, a new dementia research breakthrough is on the horizon.
Now, a new, collaborative study between the US, Sweden, Canada, and Korea is revealing some interesting information to help us better understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than one universal, dominant diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, researchers have discovered that there are 4 distinct variants that occur in as many as 18 – 30% of cases. This shift in thinking is helping researchers more fully comprehend the variations in the disease from one person to another.
This dementia research breakthrough is also significant in that it’s allowing specialists to begin to individualize treatment plans based on the particular subgroup diagnosed.
The research study reviewed data from over 1,600 men and women, identifying over 1,100 who were either in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease or who were not cognitively impaired at all. Researchers followed these participants for more than two years, funneling every person who presented tau abnormalities into four specific sub-groups:
- Subgroup 1: Occurring in as many as one out of three diagnoses, this variant involves the spreading of tau within the temporal lobe. The prevailing impact is on memory.
- Subgroup 2: Impacting the cerebral cortex, the second variant has less of an impact on memory and much more on executive functioning, such as planning and carrying out actions. It impacts about one in five individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
- Subgroup 3: In this variant, the visual cortex is impacted, affecting an individual’s orientation to self, capacity to distinguish distance, shapes, contours, movement, and an object’s location in relation to other objects. Much like the first variant, it occurs in about one out of three diagnoses.
- Subgroup 4: This variant represents an asymmetrical spreading of tau in the left hemisphere of the brain, resulting in the largest impact on language and occurring in about one in five cases of Alzheimer’s.
Oskar Hansson, professor of neurology at Lund University and supervisor of the study, explains next steps: “…we need a longer follow-up study over five to ten years to be able to confirm the four patterns with even greater accuracy.”
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