What Is Pick’s Disease?

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Pick’s disease is a type of dementia. It is very rare, and it is irreversible. Pick’s disease may also be known as frontotemporal dementia, semantic dementia, or Arnold Pick's disease. It is believed that Pick’s disease accounts for up to fifteen percent of all dementia cases. This condition can cause severe personality changes. It is estimated that only about five percent of people in the United States have Pick's disease.

A person may develop Pick’s disease at any age. Most people think of dementia as an older person’s illness, but cases of Pick’s disease have been reported in people as young as 20 years old. Signs and symptoms of Pick’s disease may start between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. The average age at onset of the condition is 54 years old.

What causes Pick’s disease? Pick’s disease is caused by abnormal levels or types of a nerve cell protein. These nerve cell proteins are found in all nerve cells. The abnormal protein is called ‘Pick bodies’ or ‘Pick cells’. When there are abnormal levels or different types of this protein in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobe nerve cells, it can cause deterioration of nerve cells. This can lead to a reduction of the tissue in the brain, which causes the dementia-like symptoms of Pick’s disease.


Behavioral and emotional changes caused by Pick’s disease include abrupt mood changes, compulsive or inappropriate behavior, depression-like symptoms (such as disinterest in daily activities), difficulty keeping a job, poor personal and social skills, poor personal hygiene, repetitive behavior, and withdrawal from social interaction. Language and neurological changes caused by Pick’s disease include a decrease in writing or reading skills, “echoing,” or repeating what was just said, inability to speak, difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech, increased memory loss, physical weakness, shrinking vocabulary, and trouble finding the right word.

In order to diagnose Pick’s disease, your doctor may do a series of tests. Unfortunately, there is no one test that can be used to diagnose the condition. Tests to diagnose Pick’s disease may include a complete medical history, interviews with family members about the person’s behavior, a physical examination and detailed neurologic examination, speech and writing tests, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan using magnetic and radio waves to show details of the brain, a computed tomography (CT) a specialized type of x-ray used to look at tissue and bone structure, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan that uses a radioactive chemical to look at the function of the brain tissue.