“Diagnosing and Treating Rapidly Progressive Dementias” (dementia within one year)

Rapidly progressive dementias (RPDs) “include prion diseases such as CJD [Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease], autoimmune dementias, paraneoplastic conditions, infections that can mimic prion diseases, and fungal infections as well as some viral and toxic metabolic conditions, such as Wernicke’s encephalopathy (a condition that stems from thiamine deficiency often due to malnutrition) and even conditions stemming from complications from an overdose of Pepto-Bismol.”

Here’s a short overview of RPDs. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the entire article, though it is short. For our purposes, here are the key excerpts:

* “Dementia may result from as many as 40 different diseases and conditions ranging from dietary deficiencies to inherited diseases, according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. With that, the definition of dementia has broadened over time from a focus on memory loss to a focus on impairment in one or more cognitive domains — particularly memory, language, frontal executive function, organizing, planning, and multitasking — that is severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily function. Typically, chronic degenerative dementias are characterized by damage or wasting away of brain tissue usually progressing over seven to 10 years. These include Alzheimer’s disease, frontal lobe dementia, and Pick’s disease. Dementias associated with progression of other diseases or conditions include Huntington’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and other parkinsonian dementias, such as corticobasal degeneration.”

* “Michael Geschwind, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco said that although there is no defined time frame for rapidly progressing dementias (RPDs), he uses the term to describe patients that go from normal cognition to dementia within a year or less. However, he has seen some patients with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) take as long as two years to develop dementia. Although there can be overlap with some typical degenerative dementias presenting in a rapid fashion, in general, patients who may have an RPD need clinicians to consider a different set of disorders, because these conditions can be both treatable and quickly fatal in some cases, Geschwind explained. … In a 2007 monograph on RPD published in Neurology Clinic, Geschwind’s team observed that 15% to 20% of the 825 patients referred to UCSF with rapidly progressing dementia presumed to be CJD turned out to have other non-prion conditions.”

* “Steven Vernino, MD, professor of neurology and neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, specializes in autoimmune encephalopathies. As a referral center, he said they see a fair number of treatable autoimmune RPDs each year. These include anti-N-methyl D-aspartate (anti-NMDA) receptor antibody encephalitis, paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis (PLE), and autoimmune limbic encephalitis associated with potassium channel-related antibodies, such as leucine-rich, glioma-inactivated 1 (LGI-1) antibody.”

Here’s a link to the full article for those who want to know more:


Diagnosing and Treating Rapidly Progressive Dementias
Michael O’Leary
Neurology Advisor
November 10, 2014