Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

What is Progressive Supranuclear Palsy?

The eyes play a vital role in our ability to move about the world. When something happens to the eyes, it tends to impact the rest of the body. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP is a brain disorder that impacts the movement of the eyes and subsequently impairs movement, balance, speech, swallowing, behavior. Death can come years or even decades after diagnosis.

There is no clear-cut cause of PSP but heredity and a gene mutation are currently thought to be the causes in some cases. The most common cause of death for PSP patients is pneumonia since PSP makes people more prone to getting it.

What are the Symptoms of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy?

Common symptoms of PSP include blurred vision, problems voluntarily moving the eyes, not being able to look in another’s eyes, problems speaking, falling more often, difficulty maintaining balance or walking, being unable to move muscles in the face. A personaffected by progressive supranuclear palsy moves more stiffly than usual and has prolonged bouts of laughter or crying.

As the disease progresses, patients have trouble swallowing, have trouble concentrating, move more slowly, can no longer solve even simple problems. Depression and loss of empathy for others might occur, making them appear cold and selfish. Ideally, a caretaker or loved one should handle a PSP patient’s finances.

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Causes

There is not a known cause for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). The deterioration of the brain cells are suspected to be the cause, because the midbrain and frontal lobe assist the body in controlling movements and thinking. The brain cells begin to deteriorate near the base of the brain. The substantia nigra is the area that is affected the most. The symptoms become much more visible when this area within the brain becomes affected.

Those who have progressive supranuclear palsy have atypical levels of tau, a protein. Tau also causes additional neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

There are no typically genetic links for occurrences of supranuclear palsy because most people with this diagnosis do not inherit the disorder.

How is Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Treated?

There is no cure for progressive supranuclear palsy. However, there are things patients and their caretakers can do to make life safer and easier. Using canes, walkers or rollators helps stabilize a patient when walking. Installing grab bars in doorways, stairways, toilets, bathtubs and shower stalls also helps patients keep balance.

Prism glasses or bifocals help some patients. If patients can no longer feed themselves or continually choke on food, they may need a stomach tube surgically implanted in them. Medications for Parkinson’s disease may be prescribed to help with balance and coordination. Antidepressants help combat the depression and anxiety that patients may have because of PSP. Going to a speech therapist may help with problems talking or communicating.

Talk to a neurologist or doctor about any national or local clinical trials for PSP that may be going on that the patient can participate in.

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Prevention

PSP cannot be prevented, but management strategies are becoming more effective. Medications do not work for managing PSP because the disease does not respond to them. Preventing further severity of the disease by clearing excessive tau in the brain can be done to improve the response to treatment.

Preventing PSP without medication can be done successfully. Walking aids that are weighted work well because they can assist in keeping people from falling backwards, which is the tendency for those diagnosed with the disease. Bifocals are also helpful because patients often have difficulty viewing things that require looking down. Exercises may help to keep joints limber, however physical therapy has shown no confirmed benefit for PSP.

A gastrostomy is a nominally invasive surgery that places a tube into the stomach for nutritional purposes; this method of prevention can assist when the patient has difficulty swallowing. It is important to reduce the risk of choking as much as possible to prevent further complications. Deep brain stimulation has not yet proven effective in preventing symptoms of PSP although it does assist in related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018