A Closer Examination of Neurosyphilis Dementia

Dementia Caused by Syphilis Takes Years to Develop

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Neurosyphilis is a disease that is caused a microorganism, a spirochete called T.pallidum that is transmitted during sexual intercourse but can also be caught through theoretically from blood transfusions and perinatal contact (the period immediately before and after birth).

People with syphilis don't automatically develop dementia or neurosyphilis. Instead, neurosyphilis often occurs years after initial infection and in those people who don't receive treatment.

Stages of Syphilis

Syphilis is a disease that involves four stages, the Primary stage, the secondary stage, the tertiary stage, a latent stage and finally a so-called tertiary stage. Syphilis has an incubation period of between 9 days and 3 months.

  • The primary stage of syphilis often begins with a sore on the part that has been in contact with the infection, the genitals, rectum or mouth. Swelling of the glands in the groin may occur. People do not usually feel ill and the sore heals after a few weeks without treatment.
  • The secondary stage of syphilis can often occur after a gap of several weeks. Infected people may start to feel unwell. Symptoms can include headaches, general aches and pains, sickness, loss of appetite and maybe a fever. A rash, flat or raised and not itchy, appears on the palms or feet, backs of legs, the front of the arms, on the body or face. Hair loss, swollen glands, and sores are also a feature. Signs and symptoms last for between 3 weeks and 9 months.
  • The latent stage occurs if no treatment is sought syphilis progresses to a third stage. This stage can last anywhere between a few months and 50 years! The person ceases to be infectious to others, although a woman can still sometimes pass on the disease to her baby.


The final stage of syphilis, known as the tertiary stage is the stage that occurs in about 15 to 20% of people who have untreated syphilis.

Neurosyphilis is a slow progressive, destructive infection of the brain and the spinal cord. Neurosyphilis has 4 different forms; asymptomatic, meningovascular, tabes dorsalis, and general paresis.
Tapes dorsalis: symptoms include peripheral neuropathy, pain in the extremities, incontinence, and ataxia- shaky and unsteady movements.

General paresis signs and symptoms include:

  • Neurological symptoms include unsteady gait, incontinence, palsy, seizures, ataxia, and paralysis. Neurosyphilis used to be called general paralysis of the insane, the result of a debauched and intemperate life!
  • Progressive dementia characterized by memory problems, disorientation
  • Mood disturbances
  • Personality changes, apathy, poor judgment. About 10% to 20% of people with neurosyphilis general paresis experience psychotic symptoms that include hallucinations and paranoia. Some people display what we think of as the classic symptoms of grandiose delusions. I have met people who thought they were kings, presidents, and prime ministers.

Diagnosis of Neurosyphilis

Diagnosis of neurosyphilis is by either a test called nontreponemal antigenic test or rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test.

Treatment of Neurosyphilis

Tertiary syphilis is treated with intravenous penicillin.

Symptoms of neurosyphilis can be reversed to a certain extent if the person with the disease responds to treatments.