What Is Childhood Dementia?

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Childhood dementia refers to progressive brain damage caused by certain rare genetic disorders. Children with childhood dementia are born with the underlying condition; it is not contagious.

Symptoms of childhood dementia may include confusion, loss of memory, or the inability to communicate. The symptoms are progressive, meaning they get worse over time. Symptoms may progress quickly or slowly depending on the cause. 

This article will provide an overview of childhood dementia, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Young boy looking out the window while doing his homework.

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An estimated 700,000 people in the United States live with childhood dementia.

Types of Childhood Dementia

Childhood dementia is usually related to neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCL), a group of rare, fatal genetic conditions.  

The three types of NCL are:

  • Late infantile: Diagnosed in infants and includes Jansky-Bielschowsky disease
  • Juvenile: Diagnosed in children and adolescents and includes Batten disease (the most common form of NCL)
  • Adult: Diagnosed in adults and includes Parry disease

Childhood Dementia Symptoms

The symptoms of childhood dementia are caused by brain damage that worsens over time. It is common for children to lose skills that they previously developed or mastered.

Childhood dementia symptoms may include:

Depending on the underlying cause, children with childhood dementia may also experience the following:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of hearing
  • Immobility 


Childhood dementia occurs when nerve cells in the brain (neurons) lose connections to each other and start to die. A group of rare genetic conditions causes this brain damage.

NCL causes a substance called lipofuscin to build up in the brain, leading to brain damage. These diseases are genetic and caused by autosomal recessive traits. That means both parents must pass on the mutated gene for the child to contract the disease.


The diseases that cause childhood dementia may be diagnosed at birth or later in childhood. If your medical team is concerned that your child is at risk for NCL, they may recommend the following diagnostic tests:


No treatments exist to stop or slow dementia caused by neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment for NCL usually targets the symptoms. There is no cure for NCL genetic diseases.

Treatment options may include:

Children with childhood dementia likely require lifelong care. Therapies in their treatment plan may include:


Childhood dementia is a severe condition. It cannot be reversed, and most children require constant care and supervision. The genetic diseases that cause childhood dementia are fatal.

The younger the child is diagnosed, the worse the prognosis usually is. Children diagnosed with NCL in their first year of life are not expected to live beyond age 10. Talk with your healthcare provider about your child’s prognosis. 


Parents and caregivers of children with childhood dementia need support in all areas of their lives. A support group may be helpful for learning about resources and connecting with others. 

Organizations that offer support groups for caregivers of children with NCL include:


Childhood dementia is a progressive brain disorder caused by a rare genetic disease. There is no cure for childhood dementia, and the symptoms worsen over time. Possible symptoms include memory loss, confusion, and the inability to speak.

To diagnose childhood dementia, your healthcare team will focus on diagnosing the underlying disease. Your child may require a brain imaging test to confirm the diagnosis.

There is no cure for childhood dementia. Treatment options may include medications, physical, occupational, speech, and mental health therapy, and nutrition services. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is childhood dementia curable?

    No, childhood dementia is not curable. Childhood dementia is caused by certain rare genetic conditions that are not curable. 

  • Is childhood dementia the same as adult dementia?

    While childhood dementia may share many of the same symptoms as adult dementia, the two conditions are different. A rare genetic disease causes childhood dementia. Adult dementia has other possible causes.

  • How do I know if my child has childhood dementia?

    Children with childhood dementia usually exhibit several signs and symptoms. Your child may start to lose skills that they had once mastered. Children with childhood dementia experience memory loss, confusion, and personality changes.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis.

  2. Childhood Dementia Initiative. What is childhood dementia?

  3. Schulz A, Kohlschütter A. NCL disorders: frequent causes of childhood dementia. Iran J Child Neurol. 2013;7(1):1-8.

  4. MedlinePlus. Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCL).

  5. Child Neurology Foundation. Dementia.

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.