What is Subcortical Dementia?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Subcortical dementia is a degeneration of the underlining areas of the cerebral cortex. It is typically caused by certain types of diseases that affect the motor functions of the body, but it can also be a result of the natural aging process of the brain. There are many types of dementia, but subcortical dementia presents certain tell-tale symptoms, including problems with reasoning, problems with memory, and difficulties with speech. Depression and behavioral difficulties can also be observed. As this disease progresses, the symptoms and brain degeneration can worsen.

Certain motor-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease can cause tremors and weakness in the muscles. This can cause substantial cell damage and cell loss throughout the body, including the brain. It can also hinder the production of dopamine, which is a vital neurochemical. Over time, the loss of brain cells can bring on subcortical dementia and around 30 percent of all Parkinson's sufferers end up with this secondary disease. They can also acquire other types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Diseases that directly affect the brain can cause subcortical dementia. For example, Huntington’s disease causes degeneration of the basal ganglia, which controls voluntary movement. In the beginning stages of this disease, severe depression and emotional behavior are common. Memory loss can also occur. These symptoms can be eased by taking medications but there is no known cure for Huntington’s disease and the brain degeneration associated with it cannot be stopped.


Autoimmune diseases such as HIV-AIDS attack the immune system, killing cells and leaving the body open to other medical conditions. The loss of essential healthy cells can also lead to bacterial and viral infections such as encephalitis. These diseases can enter the brain and do damage to the cerebral cortex, causing subcortical dementia. They can actually shrink the brain and this can result in brain atrophy. Behavioral problems are commonly seen and as the infection progresses psychotic episodes can also occur.

Although subcortical dementia is a progressive deterioration of the brain, a diagnosis must be made before treatment is given. The amount of damage this disease causes directly relates to the cause of the dementia. Subcortical dementia will eventually cause overall brain malfunction, but this can be slowed down if there are medications available to slow down the initial disease. There is no medication for subcortical dementia itself but there are medications that can greatly reduce any uncomfortable symptoms associated with it.


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