Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
Eric R Eggenberger, DO
Robert A Hauser, MD
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Stephen Berman, MD, PhD
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Overview
Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a rare degenerative disease of the brain. The disease impairs movements and balance. Many people with PSP also experience changes in mood, behavior, and personality. A decline in cognitive mental processes, such as thinking, memory, attention, and speech, is not uncommon. When these mental changes are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities, they are called dementia.
The name progressive supranuclear palsy seems like a mouthful, but it accurately describes the disease. PSP is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time. The disease affects the part of the brain above the nuclei (“supranuclear”), which are pea-sized structures in the part of the nervous system that controls eye movements. Palsy means weakness, and it is this characteristic weakness in eye movements for which the disease is named. PSP is sometimes called Steele-Richardson-Olszewski syndrome, after the 3 scientists who first described it in 1963.
About 20,000 people in the United States have PSP. The disease usually develops in people aged 60 years or older. Symptoms typically become noticeable in the early 60s, although the disease sometimes affects people in their 40s or 50s. PSP is slightly more common in men than in women.
Because PSP mainly affects older people and has somewhat similar symptoms, it is often mistaken for Parkinson disease, a much more common movement disorder. The distinction is important, because treatments that help many people with Parkinson disease do not help those with PSP. Unfortunately, we do not yet have an effective treatment for PSP.
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