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Alzheimers Dement. 2011 Sep;7(5):509-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2010.12.008. Epub 2011 Jul 1.

Frequency of Alzheimer's disease pathology at autopsy in patients with clinical normal pressure hydrocephalus.

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The Cleo Roberts Center for Clinical Research, Banner-Sun Health Research Institute, Sun City, AZ, USA.



Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is considered to be potentially treatable with the placement of a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunt. However, the procedure has been reported to have variable success, particularly with respect to improving the cognitive impairment in NPH. The presence of neurologic comorbidities, particularly Alzheimer's disease (AD), may contribute to shunt responsiveness. Uncovering the extent to which AD and NPH co-occur has implications for diagnosis and treatment of NPH. Autopsy studies of patients with NPH during their lifetime would elucidate the frequency of such comorbidities.


A search of the Sun Health Research Institute Brain Donation Program database was conducted between January 1, 1997 and April 1, 2009 to identify all cases with neuropathologic evidence of dementia as well as those of clinically diagnosed NPH. We reviewed the medical records and brain findings of each NPH case.


Of the 761 cases autopsied over the study interval, 563 were found to have neuropathologic evidence meeting criteria for a dementing illness. Of 563 cases, AD was found exclusively in 313 (56%), and 94 suffered from secondary diagnosis of dementia. Nine of 761 cases were identified with a clinical diagnosis of NPH, which were among the 563 cases with neuropathology of dementing illness at autopsy, representing 1.6% (9/563) of the cases. On review of brain autopsy reports of these nine patients, eight (89%) were found to have AD and one (11%) had progressive supranuclear palsy. Review of the medical records of the nine NPH cases revealed the following clinical comorbidities: five suffered from AD, one from Parkinson's Disease, one from mild cognitive impairment, and one from seizure disorder.


Given the findings of the present study, we support the AD-NPH theory and posit that AD is a common pathologic comorbidity in the setting of NPH and may preclude cognitive improvement postshunt placement. This may influence the selection of cases for shunting in the future.

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