Brain atrophy, also referred to as cerebral atrophy, refers to the reduction in the size of the brain. Several conditions can cause a brain to atrophy, including diseases and aging. The various types of cerebral atrophy include those classified as generalized and those classified as focal.
Generalized brain atrophy refers to a shrinkage of the entire brain. Physicians see this in aging patients as patients begin to lose neurons and brain cells, resulting in the reduced weight and size of the brain. In addition to the loss of neurons over time, neurons themselves can reduce in size and shrink, also resulting in cerebral atrophy.
Theories exist that can help delay or reduce the impact of aging on this condition. This includes using mental exercises to help the brain maintain and replace networks of neurons. Ongoing research will need to be done to see if medication can help prevent generalized cerebral atrophy due to aging.
Other diseases can lead to generalized brain atrophy. Diseases that cause damage to the various elements of the brain, such as the brain cells, neurons, and axons, may lead to cerebral atrophy. This includes diseases such as multiple sclerosis, encephalitis, and neurosyphilis.
Aside from generalized cerebral atrophy, diseases often associated with aging and various medical conditions can lead to focal brain atrophy. Focal atrophy occurs in a specific region of the brain. The affected brain area associated with focal atrophy results in the loss or decrease in functions controlled by that specific area of the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two of the diseases associated with aging that can be considered a form of focal cerebral atrophy. Those diagnosed with these diseases may find shrinkage in specific lobes of the brain, such as the temporal and parietal lobes in cases of Alzheimer’s disease, and atrophy can spread to other areas of the brain. Atrophy resulting from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can lead to problems with memory, intellectual function, and the ability to learn.
Focal atrophy can occur from a variety of sudden conditions. Strokes are one such possibility. With a stroke, the interruption of blood supply to a specific part of the brain results in brain cell loss and cerebral atrophy. The severity of atrophy related to a stroke depends on the severity of the stroke and treatment received. Other possibilities include brain trauma from an accident or blow to the head, and tumors.