One thing doctors agree on when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease? Much about the disease is still unknown.
But studies are finding new details about the disease that could help treat it, and maybe one day cure it – like this latest find from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).
The study addressed how Alzheimer’s patients start to wander, which affects three out of every five patients and has long been one of the most frightening side effects of the disease. Seeing an aging loved one start to lose track of where they are and wander without supervision, leaving them vulnerable to injury, can cause stress for caregivers and their patients.
The CUMC researchers found through testing on mice that the spatial disorientation that causes wandering is caused by tau protein accumulating in navigational nerve cells in the brain. This buildup affects the entorhinal cortex (EC), part of the brain that helps us navigate and remember routes. The mice that were engineered to express tau in the EC had a harder time navigating mazes.
This study could be the first step in developing treatments and tests for finding Alzheimer’s in patients before they start to wander.
“Our findings suggest that it may be possible to develop navigation-based cognitive tests for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in its initial stages,” co-study leader Karen Duff, PhD, professor of pathology & cell biology (in psychiatry and in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain) at Columbia, said in a press release. “And if we can diagnose the disease early, we can start to give therapeutics earlier, when they may have a greater impact.”
Read more about the study here.