Parkinson’s and Dementia
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of certain brain cells. Typically, it affects the ability of the body to move, with the most common issues being:
- personality and behavior changes
- sleep disturbances
In many cases, Parkinson’s does not affect a person’s ability to think, reason, learn, or remember. However, sometimes one or more cognitive processes are impaired to the point it is considered dementia. Fortunately, only about 20% of people with Parkinson’s suffer from dementia as well, and those symptoms typically take 10-15 years after the diagnosis to present.
When cognitive symptoms are present in someone suffering from Parkinson’s, they typically include the following:
- loss of decision-making ability
- inflexibility in adapting to changes
- disorientation in familiar surroundings
- problems learning to new material
- difficulty concentrating
- loss of short- and long-term memory
- difficulty putting a sequence of events in correct order
- problems using complex language and comprehending others’ complex language
The brain changes in Parkinson’s begin in a region of the brain that plays a key role in movement and are linked to abnormal microscopic deposits composed chiefly of alpha-synuclein, a protein that is found widely in the brain but whose normal function remains unknown. The deposits are called “Lewy bodies” and found in several other brain disorders, including Lewy body dementia. It may be that Parkinson’s dementia and Lewy body dementia are linked to the same underlying abnormalities in brain processing of alpha-synuclein.
As with other types of dementia, there is no single test, or combination of tests, that conclusively determines that a person has Parkinson’s dementia. Parkinson’s dementia is the diagnosis when the diagnosis of Parkinson’s (based on movement symptoms) occurs one year or more before the dementia symptoms appear. Interestingly, if the dementia symptoms appear within one year of the Parkinson’s diagnosis, or where they are present and diagnosed at the same time, the diagnosis is Lewy body dementia.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s is life changing. But you are not alone. There are many things you can do to proactively affect the course of the disease. Many neurologists report that symptom deterioration is often much slower in patients who are able to take a positive and proactive stance toward their condition. I may be able help as an advocate, a resource, a coach. If you are struggling with Parkinson’s in your family and would like to learn more about how I may be of help, please do not hesitate to contact me and set up a consultation.
For more information:
eMedicine Health – Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia