Dementia is not just one disease – it has more than 200 different subtypes. Over the past decade neurologists have become increasingly interested in one particular subtype, known as autoimmune dementia. In this condition, the symptoms of memory loss and confusion are the result of brain inflammation caused by rogue antibodies – known as autoantibodies – binding to the neuronal tissue, rather than an underlying neurodegenerative disease. Crucially this means that unlike almost all other forms of dementia, in some cases it can be cured, and specialist neurologists have become increasingly adept at both spotting and treating it.
At the John Radcliffe hospital, University of Oxford, neurologist Sarosh Irani is one of the world’s leading experts in treating neurological conditions caused by a malfunctioning immune system. When [80-year-old John] Abraham was admitted under his care in early January 2020 following a seizure, Irani soon realised that the source of his problems was an autoantibody which targeted a protein in the brain named LGI1.
Abraham underwent a treatment called plasma exchange, which aims to wash the blood of the disease-causing antibodies. The impact was almost instant. “For me it caused a complete transformation, in one or two days,” he says.