This form of dementia has similar symptoms to others but progresses much faster.

Rapidly progressive dementia (RPD) is dementia that progresses within weeks or months, but sometimes over the course of 2–3 years. It’s a rare condition that can be difficult to diagnose.

Like other forms of dementia, RPD can cause a range of symptoms, including cognitive difficulties, mood disturbances, and personality changes.

Various conditions can cause RPD, and many of these are treatable. Depending on the cause, the dementia itself may even be curable in some cases. But successful treatment depends on an early diagnosis.

This article lists the causes and symptoms of RPD and outlines some potential treatment options. We also discuss the mental health implications for those living with dementia, as well as for their loved ones and carers.

According to the University of California, San Francisco, many conditions may cause RPD, including:

The symptoms of RPD may differ from person to person, depending on the underlying cause. But the following are some common symptoms of RPD:

The treatment for RPD depends on the underlying cause. Many causes of RPD are treatable, but not curable.

A 2022 review explains that RPDs that occur due to the following causes may be reversible with appropriate treatment:

The table below shows some potential causes of RPD and their associated treatments, as noted in the 2022 review.

CauseTreatment options
Neurodegenerative diseaseCholinesterase inhibitors: These medications decrease the breakdown of the neurotransmitter “acetylcholine,” which carries messages from your brain to your body. This can improve dementia symptoms.
Memantine: This medication can help to treat memory loss, which is a common symptom of dementia.
InfectionsAntibiotic and antiviral drugs: These medications are generally effective in eliminating the pathogen causing the RPD.
Immune-mediated diseasesSteroids: These drugs can help to reduce inflammation and swelling in your brain.
Immunoglobulins: These antibodies help your immune system to fight infectious pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Plasmapheresis: This procedure involves removing some of your blood, separating out and treating the blood plasma, and returning it to your body via a blood transfusion. Plasmapheresis may help to improve symptoms of autoimmune encephalitis, which is immune-mediated swelling of your brain.
CancerSurgery: Where possible, doctors may elect to surgically remove a tumor.
Chemotherapy: These medications help to destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth.
Radiation therapy: This procedure uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells.

The life expectancy of a person with RPD depends on the underlying cause of their disease.

Consider talking with a doctor about your condition and your available treatment options and the associated risks and benefits. A doctor can also provide information on the likely course of your disease and can guide you to appropriate resources.

Dementia and mental health

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be incredibly worrying and upsetting, both for the person receiving the diagnosis, as well as for their loved ones.

Dementia itself can cause changes to a person’s mood and behavior. These symptoms may worsen as the disease progresses. A person may become increasingly frustrated, anxious, or worried about being unable to concentrate, follow conversations, or remember facts and events. They may also experience loneliness.

Doctors may prescribe psychiatric medications to help address mental health symptoms. They may also recommend lifestyle changes, increased social interaction, or a variety of therapies.

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Caring for a person with dementia can be very rewarding, but it can also be challenging and oftentimes overwhelming. Caregivers may feel anxious for their loved one and may feel a sense of loneliness or lack of emotional support. It’s also common to experience difficult emotions, such as frustration and anger.

It’s important that caregivers take care of their own mental health. This may include:

  • asking for help when needed, such as from family, friends, or local services
  • joining an online or in-person caregiver’s support group to help prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • taking some time out of each day to engage in relaxing or enjoyable activities
  • spending time with friends, or engaging in hobbies
  • practicing meditation to help reduce anxiety, depression, and sleeping difficulties
  • getting help from a mental health professional who can help with managing stress and anxiety

RPD is a rare form of dementia that progresses within weeks, months, or a couple of years. The symptoms of RPD vary, but common ones include cognitive difficulties, mood disturbances, and personality changes.

Various conditions can cause RPD, including infections, autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. The treatment for RPD involves treating the underlying cause. In some cases, treating the cause can reverse your RPD. In others, treatments only serve to address your symptoms.

A person can talk with their doctor about their individual condition, the treatment options available, and their outlook.

Dementia can have mental health implications for people living with the disease, as well as for their loved ones and carers. People who would like further information on dementia-related mental health support can contact a doctor for further advice and resources.