For many years, experts have been exploring the development of Alzheimer’s through one particular basic model, despite the fact that the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person.
Now, however, a large, new collaborative study between the US, Sweden, Canada, and Korea is revealing some interesting data to help us more fully understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than one universal, dominant diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, researchers have discovered that there are four distinguishable variants that occur in as many as 18 – 30% of cases. This change in thinking is helping researchers better comprehend the variations in the disease from one person to another.
With these findings, specialists are now able to customize treatment plans based on the particular subgroup diagnosed.
The study looked at data from more than 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 each person who presented tau abnormalities into four distinct sub-groups:
- Subgroup 1: Occurring in as many as one out of three diagnoses, this variant features the spreading of tau within the temporal lobe. The predominant impact is on memory.
- Subgroup 2: Impacting 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, ability 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 greatest impact on language and occurring in about one out of five cases of Alzheimer’s.
Oskar Hansson, supervisor of the study and professor of neurology at Lund University, 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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