What is Cerebellar Atrophy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cerebellar atrophy is a degeneration of the cerebellum, a section of the brain responsible for balance, voluntary muscle movements, and posture. People with damage to the cerebellum can experience symptoms like unsteady gait, poor muscle control, and trouble speaking or swallowing. This condition may have a number of causes and treatment options are variable. Usually, a neurologist supervises diagnosis and treatment of a patient with cerebellar atrophy.

Individuals with damage to the cerebellum may experience balance difficulties.
Individuals with damage to the cerebellum may experience balance difficulties.

Degenerative neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and transmissible spongiform encephalitis can be potential sources of cerebellar atrophy. Strokes and brain injuries are also potential culprits, as they can injure brain cells or set off a cascade where cells start to die off in large numbers. Alcoholism can be another cause, as the patient's metabolism fails to provide the brain with necessary nutrients and brain cells start to die.

Alcoholism may cause cerebellar atrophy.
Alcoholism may cause cerebellar atrophy.

Signs of cerebellar atrophy may onset slowly or rapidly, depending on why the patient's cerebellum is degenerating. With something like a stroke, the damage can be apparent almost immediately and may grow worse over the following days or hours. In degenerative neurological diseases, damage often occurs slowly and on a low level until it reaches a point where it becomes noticeable. Sometimes friends and family may notice a problem before the patient, as people often adjust and adapt to neurological problems without realizing it.

Damage to the cerebellum may lead to cerebellar atrophy.
Damage to the cerebellum may lead to cerebellar atrophy.

It is not possible to reverse the damage. Treatment is two-pronged, focusing on addressing the cause and providing support to help the patient adjust. It may be possible to provide medications, nutritional support, and surgery to address cerebellar atrophy and arrest or slow the damage to the brain. Treatment options are always improving as researchers study the brain and learn more about how it works, and patients should not assume there are no options available.

Multiple sclerosis may be the cause of cerebellar atrophy.
Multiple sclerosis may be the cause of cerebellar atrophy.

Support can include physical therapy to improve motor control and learn how to use mobility aids like canes. Patients may also learn adaptive skills to compensate for issues like weakness on one side of the body or trouble controlling the hands for tasks requiring fine motor ability. A physical therapist can also work with an occupational therapist to help patients recover skills they may need for work or school. The goal is usually to increase mobility and independence so patients can live on their own as much as possible. A personal assistant or aide can help with tasks patients cannot perform, visiting or living in depending on the specific needs.

Cerebellar atrophy may negatively affect an individual's fine motor skills.
Cerebellar atrophy may negatively affect an individual's fine motor skills.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I'm suffering from poor balance and have difficulty in walking. Is there any treatment and where?


Might want to check the disease "Ataxia".


My friend, age 65, has been diagnosed with cerebral atrophy. She needs a support group desperately. Who can help?


My son is 10 years old. He has abnormal movement in his forearm. The MRI is normal, but the neurologist diagnosed cerebellum atrophy. Please tell me the prognosis of this disease.


My husband is a traumatic brain injury patient. His injury was brought about by a vehicular accident two years ago. He is only 55 years old. His CT scan result showed he had cerebro-cerebellar atrophy.

Yes, it is true that his speech is slurred and has had difficulty swallowing up until now. His balance is unstable. We have his physical therapy every other day, but he has been deprived of OT and speech pathologist services since we had none in our province.

I am a working wife and I am in a dilemma on how to help him. Also, we don't have enough money for these services.


@runner101 - I know what you mean. It feels we have advanced so far in medicine so to be faced with something that is irreversible is hard to imagine.

When I was in graduate school, I went to a stroke support group at a local hospital and when I asked the people running the group if the support groups were common, they said yes. The patient I was going with to the support group had been going to the group for years and got a lot out of it.

Although stroke patients have quite the variety of outcomes and disorders following their stroke, the support group seems to embrace these differences.

I also run, and many races such as marathons and half marathons are in support of various causes and the national multiple sclerosis society is a large and strong society, so it is likely that one who is faced with this disorder could find support at least somewhat locally.


It is difficult for all involved when anything like that is involved, whether it's a general cerebral atrophy or strictly cerebellar atrophy! For it to be irreversible, it is just hard to imagine.

I feel if I or if I had someone I loved who was faced with such difficulties I would have to find a support group of some sort, because it would be difficult to feel anyone knew what I and my loved one was going through.

Does anyone know of any support groups for different types of cerebellar atrophy?

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