What is Binswanger's Disease?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Also known as subcortical leukoencephalopathy, Binswanger’s disease is a type of dementia that can cause changes in memory and cognition, as well as have a significant impact on the mood. The condition was first identified by Otto Binswanger in 1894, and first described as Binswanger’s disease in the early part of the 20th century. Because the condition bears a strong resemblance to Alzheimer’s disease, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose.

The underlying cause of Binswanger’s disease has to do with the development of lesions in the white brain matter. One of the earliest manifestations of the disease is a change in the ability to remember information that normally comes to the individual with great ease. As the condition worsens, the memory loss becomes more pronounced. The general cognitive skills of the individual also begin to deteriorate, and sudden changes in mood are common.

Over time, the ability of the individual to move freely becomes impaired. It is not uncommon for people suffering with Binswanger’s disease to begin moving much more slowly. The shoulders may begin to slump. Tripping and falling become more common. In some patients, seizures that are much like epilepsy may begin to occur, as well as an inability to control the bladder.


While it is difficult to diagnose the presence of Binswanger’s disease, it is not impossible. With the use of a CT scan, as well as an MRI, it is possible to detect the lesions in the white brain matter. The tests can often also detect ancillary signs of the condition, such as enlarged ventricles. However, since Alzheimer’s disease also affects white brain matter, looking closely at the test results is key to making an accurate diagnosis.

When it comes to treating Binswanger’s disease, there is no known means of curing the condition. Instead, the focus is often on finding ways to treat and manage the specific set of symptoms manifested by the patient. This can include using medication to deal with bouts of depression and high or low blood pressure, as well as using physical therapy to help restore some confidence in the ability to ambulate. People suffering with this condition may also find that using a cane or walker makes it easier to move about without fear of falling.

While many medical professionals recognize Binswanger’s disease as a specific physical condition, others are not so sure. The doubt comes from the fact that Otto Binswanger came to his conclusions based on the results of a macroscopic examination of the brain, without the aid of more in-depth investigation. For this reason, some health experts tend to think that Binswanger’s disease is more accurately described as a sub-set of Alzheimer’s disease, rather than a disease in its own right.


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