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Neurodegenerative Disorders

What are neurodegenerative disorders?

Neurodegenerative disorders are conditions that affect the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Neurodegenerative disorders are incurable, often debilitating conditions that result in the progressive deterioration and death of neurons. This causes problems with movement (parkinsonism, ataxia, or muscle wasting), or mental functioning, called dementias.

Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Disorders

Some of the more common symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders may include:

  • A loss of inhibition
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Difficulty with movement
  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes
  • Tremors or shaking

Neurodegenerative disorders cause permanent damage to the nervous system. Symptoms tend to get worse as the disease progresses, and new symptoms are also likely to develop over time.

Treatments for Neurodegenerative Disorders

There is no cure for neurodegenerative disorders. Treatment may help improve symptoms, relieve pain, increase mobility, and maintain quality of life. Treatment often involves the use of medications to control symptoms.

For people diagnosed with a subset of neurodegenerative disorders called movement disorders, a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation, or DBS, may provide considerable symptom relief.

Additional Information

How common are neurodegenerative disorders?

The rate of neurodegenerative disorders varies with each type of disease. One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disorder.

Who gets neurodegenerative disorders?

There is no single cause of neurodegenerative disorders, making it difficult to say who is at risk. Many of these diseases are genetic. In other instances, they are caused by a medical condition such as alcoholism, brain injury, tumor, or stroke. Other causes may include toxins, chemicals, prion disease, or viruses. Many times the cause is not known.

How are neurodegenerative disorders diagnosed?

Precise determination of a neurodegenerative disorder can be elusive because it is often difficult to accurately differentiate one neurologic disease from another, particularly since many conditions may coexist.

Additional Resources

Medline Plus

Group 49
One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disorder.
Medically Reviewed by Holly Shill, MD, FAAN on March 31, 2021