Posterior Cortical Atrophy

Posterior cortical atrophy is a type of dementia, usually an early-onset dementia. It is also known as the visual variant of Alzheimer’s disease because Alzheimer’s disease is the most common pathology found at autopsy, but other non-Alzheimer pathologies are also possible, such as dementia with Lewy bodies. The disease is progressive and shortens lifespan.

In posterior cortical atrophy, a person develops early symptoms of visual changes. Difficulty with depth perception, reading, or the sense of “not being able to see” are commonly reported. It is common for the diagnosis to be delayed and for a person to see one or more ophthalmologists and to even have eye surgery before figuring out that it is not a problem with the eyes themselves but with higher-order visual processing that is controlled by the brain. Psychiatrically, anxiety may develop in the context of retained awareness of their abnormal symptoms. Visual hallucinations may also occur.

There is no cure for posterior cortical atrophy. A comprehensive evaluation can clarify if a person’s visual and other cognitive symptoms are due to posterior cortical atrophy, outline the specific visual processing deficits that are present, and help guide patients and caregivers on how to alter environmental conditions to maximize function and safety. Vision therapy and/or occupational therapy is often recommended.

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