Dementia is a common illness with an incidence that is rising as the aged population increases. There are a number of neurodegenerative diseases that cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia, which is subdivided into the behavioral variant, the semantic variant, and nonfluent variant. Numerous other neurodegenerative illnesses have an associated dementia, including corticobasal degeneration, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple system atrophy, Parkinson’s disease dementia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Vascular dementia and AIDS dementia are secondary dementias. Diagnostic criteria have relied on a constellation of symptoms, but the definite diagnosis remains a pathologic one. As treatments become available and target specific molecular abnormalities, differentiating amongst the various primary dementias early on becomes essential. The role of imaging in dementia has traditionally been directed at ruling out treatable and reversible etiologies and not to use imaging to better understand the pathophysiology of the different dementias. Different brain imaging techniques allow the examination of the structure, biochemistry, metabolic state, and functional capacity of the brain. All of the major neurodegenerative disorders have relatively specific imaging findings that can be identified. New imaging techniques carry the hope of revolutionizing the diagnosis of neurodegenerative disease so as to obtain a complete molecular, structural, and metabolic characterization, which could be used to improve diagnosis and to stage each patient and follow disease progression and response to treatment. Structural and functional imaging modalities contribute to the diagnosis and understanding of the different dementias.
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