Scientists have discovered a form of dementia that mimics the symptoms of Alzheimer's but is in fact distinct from it. It is now clear that patients in New Jersey and across the U.S. may have been misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer's. The discovery also shows that many factors can contribute to dementia.
The newly defined dementia has been labeled as limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, or LATE dementia. Unlike Alzheimer's, this form of dementia is not caused by the buildup of beta-amyloid, the protein that hardens into plaque in the brain and kills neurons. Rather, a different protein called TDP-43, when misfolded, causes problems with memory and thinking. Misfolded TDP-43 is often associated with shrinkage of the hippocampus, the center of memory.
Memory loss and confusion are just two symptoms shared by Alzheimer's and LATE dementia. The problem is that patients with the latter would participate in clinical trials that focused only on Alzheimer's and, consequently, targeted no other protein than beta-amyloid.
Scientists not only from the U.S. but also from the U.K., Austria, Sweden, Australia and Japan contributed to the report identifying LATE dementia. It is hoped that the distinction will help in the production of drugs targeting both forms of dementia. Future research will be required to show how LATE dementia develops and why.
Whether patients with LATE dementia who were misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's can be compensated for their losses is a difficult matter to judge. Since few doctors suspected the existence of LATE dementia prior to this report, the grounds for proving medical negligence may not be so sturdy. Those who believe they have a valid case might want a lawyer to assess it. If it is valid, the lawyer may be able to negotiate for a fair settlement covering medical expenses, pain and suffering and more.