A Clinicopathological Approach to the Diagnosis of Dementia

Nat Rev Neurol. 2017 Aug;13(8):457-476. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2017.96. Epub 2017 Jul 14.


The most definitive classification systems for dementia are based on the underlying pathology which, in turn, is categorized largely according to the observed accumulation of abnormal protein aggregates in neurons and glia. These aggregates perturb molecular processes, cellular functions and, ultimately, cell survival, with ensuing disruption of large-scale neural networks subserving cognitive, behavioural and sensorimotor functions. The functional domains affected and the evolution of deficits in these domains over time serve as footprints that the clinician can trace back with various levels of certainty to the underlying neuropathology. The process of phenotyping and syndromic classification has substantially improved over decades of careful clinicopathological correlation, and through the discovery of in vivo biomarkers of disease. Here, we present an overview of the salient features of the most common dementia subtypes - Alzheimer disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and related syndromes, Lewy body dementias, and prion diseases - with an emphasis on neuropathology, relevant epidemiology, risk factors, and signature signs and symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / classification
  • Alzheimer Disease* / diagnosis
  • Dementia, Vascular* / classification
  • Dementia, Vascular* / diagnosis
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration* / classification
  • Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Lewy Body Disease* / classification
  • Lewy Body Disease* / diagnosis
  • Prion Diseases* / classification
  • Prion Diseases* / diagnosis