It is widely accepted that inflammation plays some role in the progression of chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as AD (Alzheimer's disease), but its precise role remains elusive. It has been known for many years that systemic inflammatory insults can signal to the brain to induce changes in CNS (central nervous system) function, typically grouped under the syndrome of sickness behaviour. These changes are mediated via systemic and CNS cytokine and prostaglandin synthesis. When patients with dementia suffer similar systemic inflammatory insults, delirium is a frequent consequence. This profound and acute exacerbation of cognitive dysfunction is associated with poor prognosis: accelerating cognitive decline and shortening time to permanent institutionalization and death. Therefore a better understanding of how delirium occurs during dementia and how these episodes impact on existing neurodegeneration are now important priorities. The current review summarizes the relationship between dementia, systemic inflammation and episodes of delirium and addresses the basic scientific approaches currently being pursued with respect to understanding acute cognitive dysfunction during aging and dementia. In addition, despite there being limited studies on this subject, it is becoming increasingly clear that infections and other systemic inflammatory conditions do increase the risk of AD and accelerate the progression of established dementia. These data suggest that systemic inflammation is a major contributor to the progression of dementia and constitutes an important clinical target.

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