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Cerebellar atrophy is a degeneration of the cerebellum, a section of the brain responsible for balance, voluntary muscle movements, and posture. People with damage to the cerebellum can experience symptoms like unsteady gait, poor muscle control, and trouble speaking or swallowing. This condition may have a number of causes and treatment options are variable. Usually, a neurologist supervises diagnosis and treatment of a patient with cerebellar atrophy.
Degenerative neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and transmissible spongiform encephalitis can be potential sources of cerebellar atrophy. Strokes and brain injuries are also potential culprits, as they can injure brain cells or set off a cascade where cells start to die off in large numbers. Alcoholism can be another cause, as the patient's metabolism fails to provide the brain with necessary nutrients and brain cells start to die.
Signs of cerebellar atrophy may onset slowly or rapidly, depending on why the patient's cerebellum is degenerating. With something like a stroke, the damage can be apparent almost immediately and may grow worse over the following days or hours. In degenerative neurological diseases, damage often occurs slowly and on a low level until it reaches a point where it becomes noticeable. Sometimes friends and family may notice a problem before the patient, as people often adjust and adapt to neurological problems without realizing it.
It is not possible to reverse the damage. Treatment is two-pronged, focusing on addressing the cause and providing support to help the patient adjust. It may be possible to provide medications, nutritional support, and surgery to address cerebellar atrophy and arrest or slow the damage to the brain. Treatment options are always improving as researchers study the brain and learn more about how it works, and patients should not assume there are no options available.
Support can include physical therapy to improve motor control and learn how to use mobility aids like canes. Patients may also learn adaptive skills to compensate for issues like weakness on one side of the body or trouble controlling the hands for tasks requiring fine motor ability. A physical therapist can also work with an occupational therapist to help patients recover skills they may need for work or school. The goal is usually to increase mobility and independence so patients can live on their own as much as possible. A personal assistant or aide can help with tasks patients cannot perform, visiting or living in depending on the specific needs.