For many years, Alzheimer’s research has examined the advancement of the disease through one particular basic model, even though the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person.
Now, however, a current Alzheimer’s research study that is collaboration between the United States, Sweden, Canada, and Korea is revealing some fascinating 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 four specific variants that occur in as many as 18 – 30% of cases. This shift in thinking is helping researchers more fully understand 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 researchers looked at data from more than 1,600 individuals, identifying more than 1,100 who were either in various stages of Alzheimer’s or who were not cognitively impaired at all. Following these participants over a two-year period allowed researchers to funnel every individual 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 prevailing impact is on memory.
- Subgroup 2: Having an effect on the cerebral cortex, the second variant has less of an effect on memory and more on executive functioning, such as planning and carrying out actions. It affects about one in five individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
- Subgroup 3: The visual cortex is impacted in this variant, affecting an individual’s orientation to self, capacity to distinguish shapes, distance, 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 greatest impact on language and developing in about one in 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 10 years to be able to confirm the four patterns with even greater accuracy.”
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