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What is PSP ?

Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a neurodegenerative disorder that has no known cause or cure.

Of the approximately five to seven of every 100,000 people in Canada with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), few, if any, had ever heard of the disease before their diagnosis. In fact, most patients with PSP report that their family doctors knew nothing about it until a neurologist made the diagnosis. As of now, three of every four people with a diagnosis of PSP could have been diagnosed earlier if their doctor had suspected it and performed the appropriate examination. However, it is appearing in medical journals more and more often, which will help doctors become familiar with PSP. - PSP Society of Canada

Quick Facts

  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) is a neurodegenerative disorder that has no known cause or cure.

  • It affects brain cells that control balance, walking, coordination, eye movement, speech, swallowing, and thinking.

  • Five to six people in 100,000 have PSP.

  • Symptoms begin, on average, when an individual is in the early 60’s, but may start as early as in the 40’s.

  • PSP is slightly more common in men than women, but it has no known geographical, occupational, or racial preference.

Why has no one heard of PSP ?

PSP is rare: no one even realized it existed until 1963, when several patients were first described at a national neurology research convention and the disease was given its name. In retrospect, at least 12 cases of PSP had appeared in the medical literature between 1909 and 1962, but because of its resemblance to Parkinson’s, it wasn’t recognized as a distinct disease. The brain under the microscope is almost identical to that of “post-encephalitic parkinsonism,” a common condition in the early 20th century but now nearly extinct, which also made for erroneous diagnoses during that era.

Each year an average of 1.1 people per 100,000 are newly diagnosed with PSP; five or six people per 100,000 are living with the disease. These figures are nearly identical wherever they have been carefully measured, which is in only three countries—the U.K., the U.S. and Japan.

What are the most common early symptoms of PSP ?

Balance difficulty, usually with falls, is the first symptom in most people. Other common early symptoms can be misinterpreted as depression or even as senility. These include forgetfulness and personality changes, such as loss of interest in ordinary pleasurable activities or increased irritability.

Less common early symptoms are trouble with eyesight, slurred speech, mild shaking of the hands and difficulty driving a car. Freezing of gait can be a first and only symptom for several years and difficulty finding words, or aphasia, can be a first and most prominent issue.

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