For decades, experts have been exploring the advancement of Alzheimer’s through one particular basic model, even though the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person. Dementia care experts and researchers alike have been following this one model.
Now, however, a new, collaborative study between the US, Canada, Sweden, and Korea is uncovering some interesting data to help us more accurately understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than one universal, dominant diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there are actually four distinct variants that occur in as many as 18 – 30% of cases. This change in thinking is helping researchers more accurately understand the variations in the disease from person to person.
The findings are also significant in that they’re allowing specialists to begin to individualize treatment plans based on the particular subgroup diagnosed.
The research study analyzed data from more than 1,600 individuals, identifying more than 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 each individual who presented tau abnormalities into four specific sub-groups:
- Subgroup 1: Occurring in as many as one in three diagnoses, this variant features the spreading of tau in the temporal lobe. The predominant impact is on memory.
- Subgroup 2: Having an effect on the cerebral cortex, the second variant has less of an impact on memory and more on executive functioning, such as carrying out actions or planning activities. It affects about one in five individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
- Subgroup 3: In this variant, the visual cortex is impacted, affecting a person’s orientation to self, capacity to distinguish shapes, distance, contours, movement, and an object’s location in relation to other objects. As with the first variant, it occurs in about one in three diagnoses.
- Subgroup 4: This variant represents an asymmetrical spreading of tau in the left hemisphere of the brain, causing the largest effect on language and developing in about one out of five cases of Alzheimer’s.
Oskar Hansson, professor of neurology at Lund University and supervisor of the study, explains future 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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