Pick's Diseased Brain

Pick's Information Page

maintained by Bob Hoffmann


Pick's Disease is a progressively degenerative neurological disease similar to Alzheimer's Disease for which there is no known prevention, or cure. Pick's Disease affects the frontal and temporal lobes first, with earliest symptoms showing up as changes in personality and a decline in function at home as well as work. Pick's Disease is frequently first diagnosed as stress or depression and then as Alzheimer's disease. The treatment of Pick's disease is the same as for various stages of other dementias such as Alzheimer's. This accounts for so little information being available related specifically to the treatment of Pick's Disease. This page includes information and links that I have found on this subject.

Pick's Disease Information Links List


What is Pick's Disease

Pick's disease is a relatively rare, degenerative brain illness that causes dementia. The first description of the disease was published in 1892 by Arnold Pick. Until recently it was thought that Pick's disease could not be distinguished from Alzheimer's disease during life. Consequently, it has been little studied, and much less is known about it than about Alzheimer's disease.

Pick's disease differs from Alzheimer's disease in several ways. First, the two diseases produce different abnormalities in the cells of the brain. Pick's disease is marked by "Pick bodies", rounded, microscopic structures found within affected cells. Neurons swell, taking on a "ballooned" appearance. Neither of these changes appears in Alzheimer's disease, and the pathology of Alzheimer's disease (plaques and tangles) is not found in Pick's disease. Secondly, Pick's disease is usually sharply confined to the front parts of the brain, particularly the frontal and anterior temporal lobes. This contrasts with Alzheimer's disease, which is more widely distributed. The two diseases also produce different neurochemical changes in the brain.

These basic differences between Alzheimer's disease and Pick's disease mean that the two tend to produce somewhat different symptoms. In contrast to Alzheimer's disease, in which early memory loss predominates, the first symptoms of Pick's disease are often personality change, and a decline in function at work and home. Personality change may take the form of apathy and indifference toward customary interests, or of disregard for social decorum and for the feelings of others. Poor social judgement, inappropriate sexual advances, or a coarse and jocular demeanor may be seen. Function declines because the patient simply does very little, or displays confusion and poor judgement. Patients may not be highly forgetful. Often times the patient performs well when directed to do something, but cannot undertake the very same thing independently. What is lost is the ability to initiate, organize, and follow through on even very simple plans and familiar activities.

As the illness advances, difficulties with language become common. Patients become unusually quiet, and when they do speak it may be slowly, in brief sentences. They may labor to make the sounds of words and their speech may sound distorted. Some become extremely apathetic -- they may sit for hours doing nothing at all unless prompted to do so by another, while others become extraordinarily restless, and may pace unceasingly. Some patients are hypersexual, and some, like a small child, may place anything they pick up in their mouths. Gluttonous eating occurs in some cases. Attention span is poor; patients seem to be distracted instantly by anything that they hear or see. Later in the disease, patients usually become mute. Restlessness gives way to profound apathy and the patient may not respond at all to the surrounding world. Eventually, they enter a terminal vegetative state.

Pick's disease usually begins after age 40 and is less common after age 60. It is a disease that invariably worsens. The average course is about 5 years, but it ranges from 2-15 years. It is rare, accounting for between 1% and 5% of dementia.

The diagnosis of Pick's disease is difficult during life, because its symptoms are so variable and because they overlap so much with Alzheimer's disease. A CT or MRI scan may show a pattern of atrophy that suggests Pick's disease, and neuropsychological testing may be helpful. In our experience, the experimental brain scanning techniques with PET and SPECT can be revelatory. However, it is very hard to be certain even with an extensive evaluation; Alzheimer's disease can produce the symptoms described above, and Pick's disease may produce symptoms typical of Alzheimer's disease. In all cases, it is critical to obtain a good evaluation in order to rule out treatable conditions that can cause these symptoms.

Unfortunately, neither the cause nor cure for Pick's disease is known. A few studies suggest that Pick's disease may have a genetic component, but most family members are unaffected. Other risk factors are unknown. The treatment of the disease is essentially the same as that of Alzheimer's disease; supervision and assistance for the patient aimed at maximizing his or her quality of life, medications to manage particular symptoms, and emotional and substantive support for the caregiver. The Alzheimer's Association and its network of support groups are an excellent source of help in facing this difficult illness.

Bruce R. Reed, Ph.D., Chief Neuropsychologist
Northern California Alzheimer's Disease Center
3/95 - from the Alzheimer's Association


Links to information on Pick's Disease

Pick's Support Group and Newsletter home page - CANDID

Pick's Disease (lobar atrophy) - TUTORIAL from Harvard web site

Pick's Disease and Dementia by Laura Dugan, MD - Washington University ADRC

BRAIN ATROPHY IN DEMENTIA - Pick's Disease (lobar atrophy) - Washington University

The European Concerted Action On Pick's Disease

Dementia in Pick's disease - Clinical description and diagnostic guidelines

CNS Degenerative Diseases - Pick's graphical tutorial

Picture and description of CORTICAL PICK BODIES

Picture and description of PICK'S BALLOON CELL NEURON

Picture and description of HIPPOCAMPAL PICK BODIES

"Losing Lou-Ann" by Clinton A. Erb - Holistic Education Press - A book with an excellent account of a Spouse caring for a Wife with Pick's Disease. Book can be ordered here.

"Touching the Leaves" - Husband's online journal while caring for spouse with Pick's Disease.

Incipient Dementia -- A Victim's Perspective - Insightfull writing by a victim in the very early stages of frontal lobe dementia.



Other resources for Pick's Disease

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