A new type of dementia has been identified and defined by doctors. According to a recent report published in the neurology journal Brain, some patients who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease may actually have a new classification of dementia called limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, or LATE. LATE mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but it affects the brain differently and develops differently than Alzheimer’s.
This new classification isn’t a sudden discovery. Evidence has been building for the new classification for years. There have been reports of patients whose symptoms and responses to treatments didn’t fit the mold for known types of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
This new classification doesn’t change the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia. But, by distinguishing between Alzheimer’s and LATE, scientists may be able to narrow down a cause for these diseases.
“Recent research and clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease have taught us two things,” said Dr. Nina Silverberd, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program at the National Institute on Aging. “First, not all of the people we thought had Alzheimer’s have it. Second, it is very important to understand the other contributors to dementia.”
Dementia is an umbrella term that’s used to refer to many different types of neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s Disease is considered a type of dementia. And while many dementias have been diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, researchers found that thousands of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s didn’t have the disease.
“We’re really overhauling the concept of what dementia is,” said Dr. Peter Nelson, the director of neuropathology at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
So what exactly is LATE and what makes it different from Alzheimer’s?
LATE’s full name, limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, refers to both the area of the brain that’s most likely to be affected by the disease and the protein affecting it. Age-related dementias are frequently associated with a plaque caused by different proteins depending on the type of disease.
Your brain makes most of its connections among its cells by the time you turn 10. When you have dementia, the neurons in your brain are gradually killed by a build-up of a hardened plaque caused by a specific protein. In Alzheimer’s, the protein that causes this plaque is called beta-amyloid.
In LATE, the protein that causes this plaque is called TDP-43. Unlike Alzheimer’s TDP-43 impacts parts of the brain that beta-amyloid doesn’t usually affect. This difference is significant because it shows these proteins go to different regions of the brain.
Researchers estimate that 20% to 50% of people over the age of 80 will have brain changes associated with LATE. But the good news is that, by identifying late, new guidelines may be developed that could positively impact Alzheimer’s research.
For instance, past clinical trials for Alzheimer’s may have been impacted by patients with LATE. LATE patients showed symptoms that mimicked Alzheimer’s, but they didn’t respond to clinical treatments because they didn’t have the disease.
Vaccines have been saving lives for more than 300 years. The classification of LATE could help point researchers in the right direction to finding a cure for both Alzheimer’s and LATE.
“It ultimately comes down to making people better and improving public health. Everything else is just window dressing,” said Nelson. “We hope this report will help get these people with LATE, who have the dementia syndrome, out of Alzheimer’s clinical trials.
Although there’s no known cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s, you can help to keep your mind sharp through regular exercise and a healthy diet. One recent study has shown that spending just 20 minutes outdoors in nature can reduce stress and its health effects.
Consider taking a walk outside, going for a jog, or taking up fishing with your kids or grandkids; up to 11.6 million kids went fishing in 2017. A good diet and exercise may not be able to prevent dementia, but it can help to reduce your risk and improve your overall health.