New Neuroscience Program at MCG Health System Focuses on Relieving Pressures Related to Aging

February 03, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Health News
Augusta, Ga. — When an older adult starts to have trouble walking, confusion and memory loss, even depression or incontinence, many of us would simply chalk it up to aging.

But according to the MCG Neuroscience Center, there is another possibility—normal pressure hydrocephalus, a completely treatable condition that doesn’t have to affect an older person’s quality of life. The center is starting a new program focusing on care and treatment of those with NPH.

“Nationally, there is an increased interest in NPH,” said Dr. John Vender, a neurosurgeon at the MCG Neuroscience Center. “It’s estimated that NPH affects from 200,000 to 750,000 people in the United States, but only about 11,500 are treated annually. Research has also suggested that up to 5 percent of those with dementia actually have NPH. So there is a large majority of people who are undiagnosed and untreated but who could be cured of their symptoms.”

NPH happens when an imbalance in the production, circulation or removal of cerebrospinal fluid results in extra fluid in the brain. This extra fluid creates swelling and compression in the brain, which affects normal function. NPH can happen to men and women of all races in their 60s and 70s. Symptoms, which appear gradually, may include:

· Gait disturbance: This is usually the first symptom, and is characterized by unsteady walking, a shuffling gait with slow, short steps, wide stance and difficulty with stairs. Patients may describe their feet feeling like they are “glued to the floor,” and falls are common.

· Dementia: Symptoms may progress and involve dementia, including short-term memory loss, loss of interest in daily activities, difficulty maintaining attention and withdrawn or “flat” mood. NPH is sometimes confused with Alzheimer’s disease.

· Urinary Incontinence: Another later symptom, urinary incontinence involves the need to go to the bathroom often, a sense of urgency or loss of bladder control.

Treatment of NPH is simple: using only a few small incisions, a neurosurgeon places a common shunt to siphon fluid from the brain into a vein in the neck or into the abdomen, where it is reabsorbed by the body. The shunt is usually permanent, and new programmable shunts are now available that allow physicians to change pressure settings after surgery, if needed. Once the pressure is relieved, symptoms are usually relieved as well, permanently.

“NPH is completely treatable, which makes it such a tragedy that so many cases go undiagnosed and untreated,” said Dr. Vender. “If you or a loved one is exhibiting these symptoms, ask your physician about NPH as well. Appropriate treatment of NPH can return you to the quality of life you used to enjoy.”

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MCG Health System is composed of three separate organizations — MCG Health, Inc. and the clinical services offered by the faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia and the members of the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation. The physicians of MCG Health System are community physicians, faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia, or employees of the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation, not employees of MCG Health, Inc. MCG Health, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation operating the MCG Medical Center, MCG Children’s Medical Center, the MCG Sports Medicine Center, MCG Ambulatory Care Center, the Georgia Radiation Therapy Center and related clinical facilities and services. MCG Health, Inc. was formed to support the research and education mission of the Medical College of Georgia and to build the economic growth of the CSRA, the state of Georgia and the Southeast by providing an environment for faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia and the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation and community physicians to deliver the highest level of primary and specialty health care. For more information, please visit