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CNS Drugs. 2001;15(9):691-9.

Dementia in patients undergoing long-term dialysis: aetiology, differential diagnoses, epidemiology and management.

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Nephrologisches Zentrum am Klinikum Süd, Kalhlhorststrasse 31, D-23552 Lübeck, Germany.


Dementia in patients undergoing long-term dialysis has not been clearly defined; however, four different entities have been described. Uraemic encephalopathy is a complication of uraemia and responds well to dialysis. Dialysis encephalopathy syndrome, the result of acute intoxication of aluminium caused by the use of an aluminium-containing dialysate, was a common occurrence prior to 1980. However, using modern techniques of water purification, such acute intoxication can now be avoided. Dialysis-associated encephalopathy/dementia (DAE) is always associated with elevated serum aluminium levels. Pathognomonic morphological changes in the brain have been described, but the mechanism for the entry of aluminium into the CNS is incompletely understood. The mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of the neurotoxicity associated with aluminium are numerous. Although only a very small fraction of ingested aluminium is absorbed, the continuous oral aluminium intake from aluminium-based phosphate binders, and also of dietary or environmental origin, is responsible for aluminium overload in dialysis patients. Age-related dementia, especially vascular dementia, occurs in patients undergoing long-term dialysis as frequently as it does in the general population. The differential diagnoses of dialysis-associated dementias should include investigation for metabolic encephalopathies, heavy metal or trace element intoxications, and distinct structural neurological lesions such as subdural haematoma, normal pressure hydrocephalus, stroke and, particularly, hypertensive encephalopathy and multi-infarct dementia. To prevent DAE, dietary training programmes should aim to achieve the lowest phosphate intake and pharmacological tools should be used to keep serum phosphate levels below 2 mmol/L. To prevent vascular dementia, lifestyle modification should be undertaken, including optimal physical activity and fat intake, nicotine abstinence, and targeting optimal blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and blood pressure, to those outlined in current recommendations.

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