Neurological Disorders Neurodegenerative Diseases: Symptoms and Treatment By Toketemu Ohwovoriole Toketemu Ohwovoriole LinkedIn Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 13, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Medically reviewed by Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, FAAN Shaheen Lakhan, MD, PhD, is an award-winning physician-scientist and clinical development specialist. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Halfpoint Images / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Symptoms Identifying Causes Risk Factors Types Treatment Neurodegenerative diseases (aka degenerative nerve diseases) are a number of conditions that affect how your body operates. These conditions are typically brought on by age but not always. Some research shows that these diseases have become more prevalent in recent times, partly due to an increase in the elderly population across the globe. Neurodegenerative diseases include conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Neurodegenerative disorders are progressive, which means that they get worse over time. Unfortunately, there's currently no cure, and this progression can't be stopped. Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Diseases Neurodegenerative diseases share a lot of common symptoms. Symptoms of these diseases progress in severity the longer you live with the condition. While medication can help manage and sometimes even slow progression, it can't stop it. Some of them include: Impaired mental functioning Loss of muscle control Taking a longer amount of time to learn new skills Memory loss Disorientation Emotional blunting Social withdrawal Hallucinations Delusions Depression Experiencing unwanted thoughts and feelings Put Your Short-Term Memory to the Test Identifying Neurodegenerative Diseases When diagnosing you with a neurodegenerative disease, the first thing your doctor is likely to test is your cognitive function. A decline in cognitive functioning is a common symptom of all neurodegenerative diseases. However, each condition under this umbrella also has its own diagnostic criteria. Your doctor might also order brain imaging tests like an MRI to confirm a diagnosis. There is ongoing research into the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases. A test is done for the presence of microRNAs (miRNAs), which might contain potential biomarkers for neurodegenerative disease. A miRNA is a single-stranded molecule that plays a role in regulating gene expression. Causes of Neurodegenerative Diseases Below are some of the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. Neuronal Damage Neurodegenerative diseases are thought to be caused by damage to neurons in your brain. Neurons make up your nervous system which includes your brain and spinal cord. Unlike some parts of your body, when a neuron gets damaged, it's unable to replace itself. And, as you age, these neurons die. In fact, as you get older, the brain shrinks. Neurodegenerative diseases cause these neurons to die. When these neurons die, you experience symptoms that affect your mental functioning, movement, and ability to breathe or speak. Environmental and Genetic Factors It's not very clear what brings on most neurodegenerative diseases. Most of these conditions are thought to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors like long-term exposure to toxins and certain chemicals. In some cases, relatives can pass down mutated genes that can cause you to develop a neurodegenerative disease. Abnormal Proteins Abnormal proteins in the brain have also been linked to many neurodegenerative diseases. These abnormal proteins can cause nerve cells in your brain to die. With Alzheimer's disease, a protein known as beta-amyloid has been linked to the development of the condition. Synuclein is another abnormal protein that has been observed in the brains of people with Lewy body dementia, Parkinson's disease, and multiple system atrophy. Risk Factors for Developing Neurodegenerative Diseases Certain risk factors can increase your risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. The most significant risk factor for developing a neurodegenerative disease is old age. As you age, nerve cells in your brain are more likely to die. These factors include having conditions such as cardiovascular diseases or experiencing brain trauma. Other factors include: Smoking Poor diet Alcohol use disorder Depression Brain tumor Stroke Mental Health Effects of a Stroke Types of Neurodegenerative Diseases There are many different forms of neurodegenerative diseases. Some of the most common are detailed below. Alzheimer's Disease Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases in the United States today. Research shows that around 6.2 million people may have the condition as of 2022. Common symptoms include: Getting lostMemory lossPersonality changes There are two forms of this disorder: late-onset Alzheimer's disease and early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The former is more common and affects people over the age of 60. The latter is rare and can develop in people who are between the ages of 30 and 60. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is an uncommon type of neurodegenerative disease. It targets the nerve cells in your brain that control your voluntary muscle movement. As with most neurodegenerative diseases, ALS is progressive, which means symptoms worsen over time. Early signs of the condition include muscle stiffness and weakness. With time, this will progress into an inability for a person with the condition to walk, eat, speak or even breathe. Huntington's Disease Huntington's disease is a condition that causes you to lose control over your body. It also causes cognitive decline. Early symptoms of the disorder include: Depression Slight involuntary movements Irritability Poor decision-making skills As the condition progresses, more severe symptoms such as difficulty walking and swallowing, increased involuntary movements and personality changes develop. Lewy Body Dementia Lewy body dementia is a condition that's caused by abnormal deposits of a protein in your brain. The alpha-synuclein protein causes chemical changes in the brain that lead to cognitive decline and mood and behavior changes. This condition is often mistaken for Parkinson's disease because both conditions share several common symptoms. Common symptoms of Lewy body dementia include visual hallucinations and confusion. Parkinson's Disease Parkinson's disease is a condition that progressively causes difficulty in movement in people living with it. Early signs of the condition include tremors. As the disease progresses, your muscles become stiffer, and movement becomes more difficult. While the condition is primarily marked by difficulty with movement, it also causes a loss of cognitive function. Treatment for Neurodegenerative Diseases Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for neurodegenerative diseases. They are typically treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The exact combination and form of drugs depend on the form of neurodegenerative disease one has been diagnosed with. Treatment for each form of the neurodegenerative disease varies. However, treatment typically focuses on alleviating symptoms of the condition. Research Is Ongoing Over the last few decades, cutting-edge research has made leaps and strides in developing new innovative medications for treating neurodegenerative diseases. For example, there is ongoing research into using immunotherapy to treat Alzheimer's disease symptoms. Medications help manage the physical and mental symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases. Unfortunately, these diseases are progressive, and there are currently no medications that can help to slow down the progression of their symptoms. 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Parkinson’s Disease: causes, symptoms, and treatments. Kiaei M. New hopes and challenges for treatment of neurodegenerative disorders: great opportunities for young neuroscientists. Basic Clin Neurosci. 2013;4(1):3-4. By Toketemu Ohwovoriole Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.