Our ApproachMany diseases can damage the cerebellum, including infections, tumors, strokes, toxins and injuries. In addition, there is a wide range of underlying causes and symptoms related to these diseases. Our program focuses on managing patients’ symptoms and optimizing quality of life through a team approach to care that emphasizes education and support for patients and their families.
What to Expect
To request an appointment with the Ataxia Unit, please call 617-726-3216. Before your first visit, your primary care physician or neurologist must complete this referral form (PDF) and fax it to 617-724-7836. Throughout your treatment, we will work with your local doctor to co-manage your care.
Please bring all relevant doctors' notes and test results, including pictures from MRIs or CT scans, on your first appointment. Either hard copies on film or digital copies on CD are fine. You may wish to fill out a Health History Form in advance. At your appointment, one of our neurologists will review your medical and family history. He or she also will complete a thorough neurologic and physical examination. In addition, you may undergo various tests and other diagnostic procedures.
We will do everything possible to diagnose your cerebellar disorder and deliver the best possible clinical care. If we discover your problems are unrelated to the cerebellum, we will refer you to the most appropriate specialists at Mass General for further evaluation and management.
Goals for TreatmentIf they are diagnosed early enough, some ataxias and related disorders may be treatable. Because these conditions often evolve gradually over many years, our treatment approach emphasizes:
- Slowing the advancement of the disease through a variety of treatments and interventions
- Maximizing level of function through physical, occupational and speech therapy and rehabilitation services
- Preventing the complications that may arise from infections, pneumonia, lowered blood pressure and other common problems associated with ataxia
- Supporting patients and their families at every step in the treatment process
Providing compassionate care is the centerpiece of our treatment approach. Our team strives to help patients maintain quality of life and to educate family members about caring for patients throughout all disease stages. We believe it is critical to support family members whose life situations are also affected by the disease their loved ones are experiencing.
A Collaborative, Multidisciplinary Approach
At the Ataxia Unit, we take the entire brain and body into account when treating patients. Because intellectual and emotional issues can accompany cerebellar diseases, we work with colleagues in the Cognitive Behavioral Neurology Unit to address each patient's specific condition. We may also refer patients to Mass General neurologists specializing in sleep and breathing disorders and other areas.
Outside of the Neurology Department, we collaborate with experts across Mass General and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary to address our patients' many needs. Our multidisciplinary approach may involve the input of accomplished specialists in areas such as:
- Orthopaedic surgery
- Vestibular neurology
- Physical, occupational and speech therapy
- Rehabilitation services
About This Program
The Department of Neurology’s Ataxia Unit is one of the few programs in the United States dedicated to treating cerebellar disorders including ataxia. Director Jeremy Schmahmann, MD, who founded the Ataxia Unit in 1994, is a recognized authority on cerebellar disorders. He serves on the scientific advisory board of the National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) and cofounded the with Mass General patients.
All of the neurologists in our program specialize in treating cerebellar disorders, including diseases that afflict the cerebellum in children, the spinocerebellar ataxias and vestibular impairments in patients with cerebellar damage. Find out more about ataxia treatments for children on the Pediatric Dystonia Clinic website at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
A Focus on Cerebellar Disorders
Disorders of the cerebellum result in ataxia, which can cause gait imbalance, incoordination of arms and legs, slurred speech and impaired eye-movement control. Some people also experience mood, memory and concentration problems.
Diagnosing the cause of ataxia is essential because it directly affects the management of the patient and has relevance for the patient's family. Our program excels in this respect, as each of our physicians has specialized expertise in diagnosing and treating various adult and pediatric cerebellar disorders.
There is not yet a cure for the hereditary ataxias (i.e. those that were present at birth and commonly cause symptoms to begin in childhood) or many of the sporadic ataxias (i.e. those that have no known family history and usually begin in adulthood). However, we can effectively treat many symptoms. Where appropriate, we work with other Mass General specialists to offer nonsurgical and surgical options for heart disease, scoliosis and other problems that often accompany ataxia.
In addition, through our close relationship with NAF and the open clinical trials available at Mass General., we provide patients with access to clinical trials exploring promising medications and other therapies. Patients may also search for
Active Research Efforts
Research is a high priority at the Ataxia Unit. Through the Laboratory for Neuroanatomy and Cerebellar Neurobiology, Dr. Schmahmann collaborates with local and national investigators to improve the diagnosis, understanding and treatment of patients with cerebellar disorders. All of the other doctors in our program also lead active research efforts into various aspects of ataxia.
The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.
Ataxia Clinic, Department of NeurologyWang Ambulatory Care Center
8th Floor, Suite 835
15 Parkman Street
Boston, MA 02114
Public Transportation Access: yes
Disabled Access: yes
Jeremy D. Schmahmann, MD
Mass General Hospital, Neurology
Charles River Plaza, South Building
3rd Floor, Suite 340
175 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
Office Contact Information
Referral Fax Line