Brain atrophy, more properly known as cerebral atrophy, is a condition in which cells in the brain are lost, or the connections between them are damaged. The prognosis for patients with this condition varies, depending on the type of atrophy, the location, and the cause. Often, declines in brain function emerge, and the patient will grow progressively worse over time as a result of the damage to the brain.
A number of conditions involving the brain can lead to brain atrophy, including epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and Huntington's disease. Brain atrophy has also been observed in patients with chronic wasting, also known as cachexia, with brain atrophy being particularly common in AIDS patients who develop cachexia.
Like other atrophies, brain atrophy involves loss of tissue. In the brain, losing neurons is highly undesirable, as loss of brain tissue can cause a variety of neurological and cognitive problems. Patients with brain atrophy may develop seizures, dementia, and aphasias. In focal cerebral atrophy, the damage is concentrated on a particular area of the brain, which means that the functions of that area of the brain can become impaired. Generalized brain atrophy involves the whole brain, and may be associated with a range of problems.
This condition can usually be identified in a medical imaging study of the brain such as an MRI, which can reveal structural changes in the brain. Functional scans of the brain may reveal decreased brain activity caused by brain atrophy. Patients at risk for this condition may have such scans recommended on a periodic basis for their physicians to monitor for changes in brain structure or function. People who experience symptoms associated with cerebral atrophy may also undergo such scans to assist with diagnosis.
Treatment for brain atrophy is focused on keeping the patient comfortable, preventing further damage if possible, and providing the patient with tools to manage the decline in brain function. Physical therapy may be used to teach patients various skills to assist them in coping with decreased physical abilities, for example, and patients may also do exercises to bolster mental acuity. Regular neurological exams are also a routine part of treatment, to monitor the patient's progress. In patients who experience a radical decline, placement in an assisted living facility may be considered if caregivers are not able to provide the support the patient requires as a result of the damage caused by brain atrophy.