Overview

Posterior cortical atrophy is a degenerative brain and nervous system (neurological) syndrome that results in difficulty with eyesight and processing visual information. Common symptoms include difficulties with reading, judging distances, and reaching for objects, as well as trouble with calculations and recognizing objects and familiar faces. Over time this condition may cause your memory and thinking abilities (cognitive skills) to decline.

Posterior cortical atrophy changes a person's ability to purposefully process visual and spatial information. This difficulty is secondary to atrophy of the back (posterior) part of the brain. This is the region responsible for visual processing and spatial reasoning.

Posterior cortical atrophy is most commonly due to Alzheimer's disease (over 80%) but may be due to other neurological conditions, such as Lewy body dementia or corticobasal degeneration.

Symptoms

Posterior cortical atrophy symptoms vary widely between individuals and over time. Symptoms tend to worsen gradually. Common signs and symptoms include difficulties with:

  • Reading, spelling or math
  • Driving
  • Getting dressed
  • Telling the difference between objects that are moving and those that are still
  • Identifying how far away objects are
  • Using everyday objects or tools
  • Identifying left from right

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Changes in behavior and personality

Later in the course of the disease, memory problems may occur.

Causes

Experts don't understand what causes posterior cortical atrophy. Possible causes include Alzheimer's disease and Lewy body dementia. There are no identified genetic mutations found to cause the condition.

Risk factors

Further study is needed to determine whether the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease may play a role in posterior cortical atrophy.

Posterior cortical atrophy care at Mayo Clinic

Oct. 29, 2021
  1. Crutch SJ, et al. Consensus classification of posterior cortical atrophy. Alzheimer's and Dementia. 2017; doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2017.01.014.
  2. Posterior cortical atrophy. Alzheimer's Association. http://www.alz.org/dementia/posterior-cortical-atrophy.asp. Accessed Nov. 3, 2020.
  3. Weill-Chounlamountry A, et al. Non-pharmacological intervention for posterior cortical atrophy. World Journal of Clinical Cases. 2016; doi:10.12998/wjcc.v4.i8.195.
  4. Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. Oct. 23, 2020.
  5. Graff-Radford J (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Oct. 26, 2020.
  6. Wolk DA, et al. Clinical features and diagnosis of Alzheimer disease. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 3, 2020.

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