Q: It is my understanding that scientists have discovered a new form of dementia. What do I need to know about it?

A: Earlier this year, a panel of experts came together and named a new disease that will likely affect many of us. The disease is called limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy. Since that can be a dizzying name to look at, it is also referred to by its acronym, LATE.

LATE is a disease that looks a lot like Alzheimer’s. In fact, it was discovered by examining the remains of people who had passed away from what doctors thought was Alzheimer’s. But the autopsies revealed something that didn’t look like the typical brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

LATE is a relatively new disease identification, so not a lot is known about it yet. But here is what is known so far. LATE seems to make up about 17% of dementias, so it is actually pretty common. It also seems to mostly affect people over the age of 80. It is estimated that about a quarter of people over the age of 85 likely have changes in their brains consistent with this disease. LATE tends to progress slowly, and the symptoms look a lot like Alzheimer’s. However LATE may actually share more in common with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease than Alzheimer’s. Also, there currently are no tests for this disease.

Keep in mind that a person can have more than one form of dementia, and having LATE plus Alzheimer’s can cause a faster decline. In fact, one study shows out of 1,000 people who died of dementia, 78% of them had at least 2 types of dementia, 58% had at least 3 types of dementia, and a third had at least 4 types of dementia, while only 9% had just Alzheimer’s. This is probably one of the reasons dementia can be so difficult to treat.

Because not a lot is known about LATE, the steps to take to prevent it are speculative. However, it is very likely that prevention includes the same measures used to help prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s. These steps include eating a healthy whole food diet, getting regular exercise, getting plenty of healthy fats, having some turmeric in your diet, and staying socially active. So even though a person can have multiple forms of dementia, the basics of what to do in terms of natural preventative steps are pretty much the same.

The impact of LATE is that it may be confusing the results of studies on Alzheimer’s treatments. This means that some of the studies on medications for Alzheimer’s may have failed in part because many of the people in the study might not have had just Alzheimer’s. We can look at this optimistically by noting that a significant advantage of discovering other Alzheimer’s-like dementias is that this is likely to make it easier for us to ultimately find answers on how to treat Alzheimer’s and these other forms of dementia.

For now, it may be that the best advice is to stick with the currently known preventive steps and to stay in touch with your primary health care provider to learn about new developments in prevention.

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