Memory loss is often regarded as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, but more than 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have little or no trouble with their recall, according to a surprising, new Mayo Clinic report.
As many as 600,000 Americans have so-called “hippocampal sparing” Alzheimer’s, researchers concluded after examining the brains of more than 1,800 deceased Alzheimer’s patients.
As its name suggests, this form of the disease doesn’t significantly damage the hippocampus—the brain’s memory and learning center—but attacks other areas first, leading to unconventional warning signs that include behavioral outbursts, visual hallucinations and not being able to control one’s limbs. It is also more likely to strike men as opposed to women, and manifest earlier on in a person’s life span.
Lack of awareness carries serious consequences
Both doctors and patients are often unaware of the existence of hippocampal-sparing Alzheimer’s, which may lead to dangerous mistakes. “These patients are misdiagnosed more than 50 percent of the time,” according to lead study author, Melissa Murray, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience to the Mayo Clinic.
Every dementia is different and thus requires the employment of different therapy and treatment options.
Oftentimes, according to Murray, a person with hippocampal-sparing Alzheimer’s is mistakenly thought to have frontotemporal dementia—a term used to describe a series of conditions that impact the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for language, personality and behavior.
While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, an incorrect or missed diagnosis can delay treatment of the disease—which experts agree is most effective when administered earlier on in its progression. Murray says there are drugs currently on the market which are potentially more beneficial for people with the hippocampal-sparing sub-type of Alzheimer’s, but these individuals aren’t able to access treatment due to the lack of awareness of their disease.
Learn more about hippocampal-sparing Alzheimer’s, and the challenges of diagnosing and treating the disease: The Type of Alzheimer’s You (and Your Doctor) May Not Know About.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor