[Polyneuropathy in older individuals]

W N Löscher, B Iglseder
Der Internist 2020, 61 (3): 254-260
The peripheral nervous system is subject to changes during the aging process, e.g., deep tendon reflexes decrease, as proprioception does. In contrast, polyneuropathies have to be distinguished from age-associated changes as independent diseases with etiologies similar to those in younger ages. Incidence of polyneuropathies is reported about 118/100,000, the overall prevalence in the general population is estimated to be about 1% and rises to up to 7% in the elderly. Etiology includes metabolic disorders, primary inflammatory polyneuropathies, systemic disorders and vasculitic neuropathies. Due to the age-specific increase of the prevalence of certain etiologies, neuropathies associated with diabetes, malignancy, and monoclonal gammopathies are even more common in older patients. However, the proportion of cryptogenic neuropathies, e.g. neuropathies without obvious cause, increases also with age. In older age, polyneuropathies additionally impair mobility and increase the risk of falling, thus the assessment of functional abilities is mandatory. It is essential to try to identify the underlying cause by a systematic approach including history, clinical investigation, neurophysiological and lab exams. Treatment of polyneuropathies is based on therapy of underlying conditions and requires management of neuropathic pain in the majority of cases. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation target pain relief and sustaining activities of daily living.

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