JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Rapidly Progressive Dementia

Michael D Geschwind
Continuum: Lifelong Learning in Neurology 2016, 22 (2 Dementia): 510-37
27042906

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This article presents a practical and informative approach to the evaluation of a patient with a rapidly progressive dementia (RPD).

RECENT FINDINGS: Prion diseases are the prototypical causes of RPD, but reversible causes of RPD might mimic prion disease and should always be considered in a differential diagnosis. Aside from prion diseases, the most common causes of RPD are atypical presentations of other neurodegenerative disorders, curable disorders including autoimmune encephalopathies, as well as some infections, and neoplasms. Numerous recent case reports suggest dural arterial venous fistulas sometimes cause RPDs.

SUMMARY: RPDs, in which patients typically develop dementia over weeks to months, require an alternative differential than the slowly progressive dementias that occur over a few years. Because of their rapid decline, patients with RPDs necessitate urgent evaluation and often require an extensive workup, typically with multiple tests being sent or performed concurrently. Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease, perhaps the prototypical RPD, is often the first diagnosis many neurologists consider when treating a patient with rapid cognitive decline. Many conditions other than prion disease, however, including numerous reversible or curable conditions, can present as an RPD. This chapter discusses some of the major etiologies for RPDs and offers an algorithm for diagnosis.

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