Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have recently discovered that as many as 600,000 people have been misdiagnosed with the wrong type of Alzheimer’s disease or a wide number of other conditions. They found a variant of the disease, which is an Alzheimer’s subtype called hippocampal sparing. Therefore, patients may not be getting adequate care or taking the right medications to help with their specific condition.
The Florida-based research team studied more than 1,800 brains that had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that those with a specific type of Alzheimer’s subtype had noticeable damage to the neurons in their brains and it affected their awareness, behavior and motor skills, as well as causing speech and vision problems. There were some clear differences between what they had been diagnosed with and the specific symptoms of the subtype. The subtype was present in 11 percent of Alzheimer’s cases, and when applied to the five million Americans who have been diagnosed, it equates to roughly 600,000 misdiagnosed cases.
The big difference with this particular subtype of Alzheimer’s is that patients tend to decline at a much quicker rate than those with what is traditionally known as Alzheimer’s, the most prevalent form of dementia. Other differences include the fact that it affects more men than women and it occurs at a younger age than most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms may include angry outbursts, feeling the loss of control over arm and leg movements and vision problems that seem to appear out of the blue.
Misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s is not hard to imagine since there is not a single test that doctors can use to identify it. A series of tests, from blood work and urine tests to a full medical history and neurological tests are done to determine a diagnosis. Just as there is no definitive test to confirm Alzheimer’s, there is no cure either. Medications and therapy are used to treat the symptoms and try to improve patients’ memory. Unlike the subtype, which is not characterized by memory loss, the most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is short-term memory loss.
Other conditions are sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease as well. For example, five percent of normal pressure hydrocephalus cases are misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. The condition is fairly uncommon and nearly a third of all doctors are unaware of it. It is a condition in which fluid builds up on the brain.
The researchers from the Mayo Clinic presented their findings about the Alzheimer’s subtype in Philadelphia at the annual American Academy of Neurology meeting. Assistant professor of neuroscience, Melissa Murray, stated in a Mayo Clinic press release that patients with this subtype often retain their memories. It is for this reason that misdiagnosis occurs, which may include a variety of other diseases, including frontotemporal dementia.
Although the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is vital to make the information available because there are different drugs already in existence that work better at treating hippocampal sparing. Bringing attention to the Alzheimer’s subtype may help doctors identify it and diagnose their patients accordingly.
By Tracy Rose