Hundreds of thousands of older people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may, in fact, be suffering from a different disease. According to groundbreaking new research, the condition, known as “Late”, affects a fifth of people over 85. Like Alzheimer’s, Late leads to memory loss, cognitive decline and mood disorders (although its progress tends to be slower).
The disease’s neurology, however, is very different: rather than deposits of sticky amyloid plaques and tau proteins, the brains of Late sufferers contain a misshapen form of a different protein, TDP-43. Researchers who work in dementia have long been puzzled by patients who have all the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but whose brains do not contain the pathological features of the condition. We now know that these puzzling patients are probably suffering from Late.
Late’s existence could help explain why attempts to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s haven’t been more successful. Trials of drugs based on clearing out amyloid plaques have probably featured significant numbers of participants who had Late, and not Alzheimer’s – which would have skewed the results. (The Times and The Week, 11 May2019)
Whatever the strict medical term for it memory loss is a miserable, frustrating and frightening disease. I have experience of its effects in my own family, too painful and upsetting an experience to discuss here in public. But this news did make me think how I could, as a son, have been more patient, more caring, and given my mother more hope, momentary though it would have been. None of us know whether we will be stricken with memory loss in old age. To those younger people faced with it in their parents: stop, draw breath, and tell yourself “ this could be me one day. Patience. Patience”.