Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

About Dementia

Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA)

Overview

Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) is a rare disorder where people lose the ability to interpret what they are looking at.  It is also called Progressive Visuospatial Dysfunction.

Signs and Symptoms

People with PCA slowly develop difficulty with visual tasks. They may complain that their vision is blurry, but does not get better with new glasses. Common symptoms include:

• Having difficulty with tasks like telling time or reading

• Trouble finding things on shelves

• Difficulty driving within the lane

• Running into door frames

• Getting lost, even indoors

• Thinking that items are popping in and out of view

• Difficulty recognizing what or who one is looking at

Progression

When these symptoms progress, some people develop difficulty with attention and concentration and difficulty using objects correctly even if they know how. Others may develop memory loss or other cognitive difficulties. Depression is common as well.

Diagnosis and Treatment

How it’s diagnosed

PCA is diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms above by a qualified doctor. Oftentimes, an MRI and basic bloodwork is done to make sure that there are no other explanations for the symptoms. The MRI may also show atrophy (shrinkage) of the parts of the brain near the back of the head, called the parietal and occipital lobes.

Medications

There are no medications for PCA, but sometimes Alzheimer’s medications can be tried. Depression related to PCA can also be treated with medications.

Non-pharmacological interventions

People with PCA and their caregivers can often use strategies to help get around problems with visuospatial processing. For instance, items can be color coded for easier identification. Large text may actually be harder to read, so small labels and print may be more useful. Arranging things neatly and in the same place at all times is helpful.

Occupational therapists can help minimize risk of tripping or running into things in the home. Additionally, resources for people with low vision or blindness might be useful despite the problem not being with the eyes in this case.

This page last updated Jun 19, 2012

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