Pick disease is a rare form of dementia that is similar to Alzheimer disease, except that it tends to affect only certain areas of the brain.
Semantic dementia; Dementia - semantic; Frontotemporal dementia; Arnold Pick disease
People with Pick disease have abnormal substances (called Pick bodies and Pick cells) inside nerve cells in the damaged areas of the brain.
Pick bodies and Pick cells contain an abnormal form of a protein called tau. This protein is found in all nerve cells. But some people with Pick disease have an abnormal amount or type of this protein.
The exact cause of the abnormal form of the protein is unknown. Many different abnormal genes have been found that can cause Pick disease. Some cases of Pick disease are passed down in families.
Pick disease is rare. It can occur in people as young as 20. But it usually begins between ages 40 and 60. The average age at which it begins is 54.
The disease gets worse slowly. Tissues in parts of the brain shrink over time. Symptoms such as behavior changes, speech difficulty, and problems thinking occur slowly and get worse.
Early personality changes can help doctors tell Pick disease apart from Alzheimer disease. (Memory loss is often the main, and earliest, symptom of Alzheimer disease.)
People with Pick disease tend to behave the wrong way in different social settings. The changes in behavior continue to get worse and are often one of the most disturbing symptoms of the disease. Some persons have more difficulty with decision making, complex tasks, or language (trouble finding or understanding words or writing).
General symptoms are listed below.
Not able to keep a job
Inability to function or interact in social or personal situations
Problems with personal hygiene
Withdrawal from social interaction
Abrupt mood changes
Decreased interest in daily living activities
Failure to recognize changes in behavior
Failure to show emotional warmth, concern, empathy, sympathy
Not caring about events or environment
Cannot speak (mutism)
Decreased ability to read or write
Difficulty finding a word
Difficulty speaking or understanding speech (aphasia)
The doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms.
Your health care provider might order tests to help rule out other causes of dementia, including dementia due to metabolic causes. Pick disease is diagnosed based on symptoms and results of tests, including:
Assessment of the mind and behavior (neuropsychological assessment)
Medicines may be needed to control aggressive, dangerous, or agitated behaviors.
Some patients may benefit from hearing aids, glasses, cataract surgery, or other treatments.
Behavior modification can help some people control unacceptable or dangerous behaviors. This consists of rewarding appropriate or positive behaviors and ignoring inappropriate behaviors (when it is safe to do so).
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) does not always work. This is because it can cause further confusion or disorientation.
Reality orientation, which reinforces environmental and other cues, may help reduce disorientation.
Depending on the symptoms and severity of the disease, the patient may need monitoring and help with personal hygiene and self-care. Eventually, there may be a need for 24-hour care and monitoring at home or in a special facility. Family counseling can help the person cope with the changes needed for home care.
Care may include:
Adult protective services
Visiting nurses or aides
Persons with Pick disease and their family may need to seek legal advice early in the course of the disorder. Advance directive, power of attorney, and other legal actions can make it easier to make decisions regarding the care of the person with Pick disease.
Munoz DG, Morris HR, Rossor M. Pick's disease. In: Dickson D, Weller RO, eds. Neurodegeneration: The Molecular Pathology of Dementia and Movement Disorders. 2nd ed. Hoboken NJ: Wiley-Blackwell; 2011:chap 16.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.