A recently discovered disease, known as limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, or LATE, is a type of dementia that’s impacting older adults with greater frequency than Alzheimer’s, which itself inflicts about 5.6 million Americans over the age of 65.

In addition to its frequency, what also makes this discovery extraordinarily disheartening is that LATE can mimic Alzheimer’s symptoms while leading to steeper cognitive decline when actually coupled with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers determined that LATE impacts those over the age of 80 and is befuddling the medical community and families of those with the illness because it is an under-recognized diagnosis. Thankfully, diagnostic criteria for LATE are in-progress to encourage additional research and to raise awareness to an illness that’s considered a pathway to dementia, an irreversible and debilitating disease.

LATE is characterized as an “amnestic cognitive syndrome” and can affect a multitude of cognitive domains, and therefore impairs the functions of everyday life. In many cases, the impairments are greater than other pathologies and can be associated with dementia. The study found that LATE is linked to substantial cognitive impairment that are separate from those that arise from other similar diseases, which is a great concern to public health.

Individuals over the age of 80 who become subjects of autopsies showed pathological features consistent with LATE at a rate of at least 20 percent, illustrating the wide threat to those in advanced age ranges. LATE was also observed to increase in frequency with each additional year of life over the age of 85. This is contrasted by the manifestation of amyloid-β plaques, which are common in older individuals, but are not more frequently present as subjects age.

The discovery of LATE is also placing roadblocks on research and treatment of Alzheimer’s because it can be misdiagnosed, leading to ineffective treatment. Some high-profile trials, for instance, are not offering the expected results because the patient is actually suffering from LATE and not Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, it is shedding some new light on what dementia is. We’ve seen clues of LATE when patients do not fit the typical profile for either dementia or Alzheimer’s, giving rise to the idea that dementia is not caused by a single disease. The challenge has been pinpointing why one case can look so different from another. Why is it that some people lose memory first while others initially lose language? Why does dementia begin at different stages of life?

These are some of the mysteries that may be solved as we gain a greater understanding of disease variants and as a community, pay closer attention to all types of cognitive ailments and their peculiarities both from a medical and care perspective.

This news also illustrates how much a true threat this disease is and at the rate that it is increasing, it is becoming more important than ever for more of us to become dementia aware. That goes for family caregivers and professional caregivers.