Neurodegenerative disorders are diseases of the central nervous system and develop when cells of the central nervous system stop working or die. Many bodily functions are disrupted such as balance, movement, talking, breathing and heart function. These disorders are progressive and incurable, although certain treatments are available to relieve symptoms, pain and increase mobility.
The common types of neurodegenerative disorders include:
- Alzheimer’s disease – a brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease) – a nervous system disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It first shows as mild muscle problems, then progresses to complete loss of strength and movement.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) – a nervous system disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin that covers nerve fibers. Common symptoms include numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and paralysis.
- Parkinson’s disease – a nervous system disease caused by the degeneration of the pigmented neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain, resulting in decreased dopamine availability. Characteristics of the disease include a decrease in spontaneous movements, gait difficulty, postural instability, rigidity and tremor.
As these disorders progress, they affect everyday function such as:
- Mobility and balance
- Abnormal movements
- Bladder and bowel function
- Blood pressure and heart function
- Memory and cognition
- Mood and behavior
Scientists are still discovering the exact causes of neurodegenerative disorders, but they are believed to be caused by age and genetic and environmental factors. Sometimes the disorders are caused by a tumor or a stroke.
Each disorder has its own diagnosis criteria dependent on clinical symptoms and imaging tests. Structural neuroimaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are used to identify neuron dysfunction.
There is no cure for neurodegenerative disorders. Treatments focus on relieving symptoms, reducing pain and increasing mobility. For some neurodegenerative movement disorders, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment that may provide relieve from symptoms