What is neurodegenerative disease?

Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and hereditary conditions defined by the gradual deterioration of cells in the brain and nervous system dysfunction. Many of these diseases are associated with dementia which is characterized by the progressive deterioration of thinking ability and memory as the brain becomes damaged. This affects an individual’s ability to think, remember and move and eventually work, socialize, be independent, and perform everyday activities.

The Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) explores dementia associated with five neurodegenerative diseases that lead to impairments in memory and cognition: 

Alzheimer's disease / mild cognitive impairment

  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of all dementia in Canada
  • AD isn’t a normal part of aging. Symptoms include having difficulty remembering things, making decisions and performing everyday activities. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory, language, thinking, and judgment. A person with MCI may have an increased risk of developing AD or another dementia. There are currently no tests or procedures to demonstrate conclusively that a person has MCI and it’s not possible to determine the single cause of MCI in a specific person
  • For more information, visit the patient advisory group: Alzheimer Society of Ontario

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

  • Approximately 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians currently live with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Although it’s currently estimated that 1 in 800 Canadians will develop ALS, this number will dramatically increase as the population ages
  • People living with the disease lose the ability to control muscles and become progressively paralyzed due to nerve cells dying in the brain and spinal cord
  • The dementia observed in some ALS patients is best characterized as frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTD). The frequency and severity of cognitive changes in ALS varies widely, likely in part related to the tests used and how dementia is defined
  • For more information, visit the patient advisory group: ALS Society of Canada

Cerebrovascular Disease (formerly Vascular cognitive impairment)

  • Vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) results from stroke and is the second leading cause of dementia with 30 per cent of stroke patients developing dementia. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada and the leading cause of adult neurological disability
  • VCI is believed to be caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain. When blood vessels lose their effectiveness, either because of age or other factors, the brain can suffer reduction of blood flow
  • For more information, visit the patient advisory group: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration

  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTD) is a group of diseases caused by progressive cell degeneration in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind the forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind the ears)
  • FTD accounts for 20 per cent of pre-senile dementia cases. Symptoms can begin to appear on average around 45 to 65 years of age. Symptoms of FTD progress at a rapid, steady rate
  • There are three main types of FTD:
    1. Behavioural variant frontotemporal lobar degeneration (bvFTD) takes its greatest toll on personality and behaviour. As bvFTD progresses, people often develop a striking loss of restraint in personal relations and social life
    2. Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) affects language skills in early stages, but often also affects behaviour as it advances
    3. FTD movement disorders affect certain involuntary, automatic muscle functions. These disorders may also impair language and behaviour

Parkinson's disease

  • More than 100,000 Canadians are estimated to have Parkinson’s disease (PD). Approximately 24-31 per cent of all patients with PD also have dementia
  • PD is a slow progressing neurodegenerative disease of the nervous system that causes people to lose control over their muscles. The most common symptoms are tremors, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, and rigidity of muscles
  • As PD progresses, non-motor symptoms may also appear, such as depression, difficulty swallowing, or cognitive changes
  • For more information, visit the patient advisory group: Parkinson’s Society of Canada