Nestor Galvez-Jimenez, MD
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Pick Disease Overview
Pick disease is a brain disorder that causes slowly worsening decline of mental abilities. It gradually damages brain cells and impairs their function. It disturbs cognitive processes, such as reasoning, problem solving, and memory. The disease often affects a person’s ability to use and understand spoken, written, and even signed language. It also affects personality, emotions, and social behavior. When the decline in mental abilities is severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities, it is called dementia.
Pick disease is named after Arnold Pick, the doctor who first described the disease in 1892. It is often compared to Alzheimer's disease. However, Pick disease is different from Alzheimer's disease in several ways.
- First, the diseases affect different parts of the brain. Pick disease usually affects only the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the part from the forehead back to the ears. For this reason it is sometimes called “frontotemporal dementia.” Pick disease is only one of several types of frontotemporal dementia.
- Second, the diseases damage the brain in different ways. The changes they cause in the brain are distinct. Both diseases cause severe shrinkage (atrophy) of brain tissue and death of nerve cells called neurons. In Pick disease, the neurons contain abnormal protein accumulations called Pick bodies. Neurons may swell as they stop functioning.
- These differences translate to somewhat different symptoms for the two diseases. Memory loss, usually the first symptom in Alzheimer's disease, may not occur in Pick disease until later in the disease. People with Pick disease may have early changes in mood, behavior, and use of language and speech (aphasia).
- On average, Pick disease occurs at a somewhat younger age than Alzheimer's disease. In Pick disease, the first symptoms typically appear in middle age, in people aged 40-60 years. However, it can occur in adults of any age.
Unfortunately, Pick disease is similar to Alzheimer's disease in several ways.
- It is a progressive disease, meaning that the symptoms gradually worsen over time and do not get better.
- The two diseases are equally devastating, causing gradual decline of mental functions and disability.
- Neither disease is curable.
Much less is known about Pick disease than about Alzheimer's disease. This is partly because Pick disease is a much less common disease. Also, Pick bodies and neuron swelling are difficult to detect in a living person, so Pick disease may go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed. People with Pick disease are sometimes thought to have Alzheimer's disease. This is changing as medical professionals learn more about Pick disease.
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