When you think of dementia, what comes to mind? If you automatically think of Alzheimer’s disease, you’re most certainly right. With that being said, there are many other types of dementia that are just as debilitating. One of these forms of dementia is referred to as Parkinson’s disease which commonly affects motor skills and cognitive functioning.
Affecting nearly 2 percent of the population aged 65 years and older, Parkinson’s disease is closely linked to dementia. In fact, it’s believed that between 50 and 80 percent of those who develop Parkinson’s, will develop Parkinson’s disease dementia. This is a challenging disease, as symptoms from both conditions are experienced, affecting cognition and movement.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Before you can understand the effects of Parkinson’s dementia, it’s critical to know what this disease is and how it progresses. When someone is affected by this disease, they experience changes in their brain, specifically affecting dopamine levels. Areas of the brain that control movement are generally affected first, progressing towards cognitive decline. In turn, memory, judgment, and attention are all affected.
These changes in the brain occur based on microscopic deposits of protein. This protein, commonly known as alpha-synuclein is naturally found within the brain, yet its regular function isn’t exactly known. When deposits of these proteins forms, they’re what’s called Lewy bodies.
If you are familiar with Alzheimer’s research, then you know that plaque is a hallmark change that occurs in the brain of those who suffer from this disease. While focusing on Parkinson’s as a form of dementia, individuals also experience the formation of tangles and plaques.
These plaques and tangles are also clusters of protein which are believed to cause tissue loss and cell death within the brain. Since individuals with Parkinson’s begin to decline in terms of cognitive functioning, many develop dementia within ten years from onset.
Parkinson’s: Risk Factors and Symptoms
Although we have come a long way in terms of neurological research, there is still a lot that’s unclear. The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, with approximately 10 percent of cases being linked to genetics. Despite the fact that the remaining 90 percent of cases are not fully understood in terms of their cause, there’s clear evidence that brain cells are altered and destroyed. Some of the key risk factors include:
- Age, especially when you’re 70 years or older
- A score that is greater than 25 on the Parkinson’s disease rating scale
- Exposure to immense psychological stress
- Cardiovascular disease
- Being diagnosed with a condition that yields related symptoms, such as depression
Parkinson’s disease causes more physical symptoms, however, these can progress into cognitive issues in the future. As mentioned, not everyone who develops Parkinson’s will experience symptoms of dementia. For those that have Parkinson’s, they’re simply at a higher risk in terms of a dementia diagnosis.
When Parkinson’s is diagnosed and symptoms of dementia develop in the future, this is known as Parkinson’s dementia. On the other hand, if dementia is diagnosed at the same time as Parkinson’s, this is referred to as dementia with Lewy bodies. At the end of the day, both Parkinson’s dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies create the same problem, but the order of symptoms differ.
Just like instances regarding addiction or personality disorders, everyone is unique. In terms of dementia, individuals are affected differently. With that being said, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Lack of concentration
- Struggling to perform daily tasks, such as cooking, getting dressed, or even communicating
- Delusions and/or hallucinations
Can Parkinson’s Be Treated?
Unfortunately at this time, no single drug can treat or cure this disease. At this time, doctors are simply prescribing treatment plans that help minimize symptoms. This can be tricky, as some medications used to treat Parkinson’s, can actually increase symptoms of dementia.
Medications will not slow down the progression of this disease, they’ll only treat symptoms such as confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. Individuals also utilize treatment through physiotherapists, dietitians, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers. It’s more about improving one’s quality of life, not specifically treating the disease itself.
If you suspect any abnormal symptoms regarding yourself or a loved one, it’s critical that you see a doctor. Although there isn’t a current cure available, it’s important to start available treatment as soon as possible. Remember, everyone is unique so options can be discussed in detail with your health care provider.
Davis, Charles. (2015). Parkinson Disease Dementia: What’s the Progression. eMedicineHealth. Retrieved from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/parkinson_disease_dementia/article_em.htm.
Parkinson Society. (2015). What is Parkinson’s? Parkinson Society Canada. Retrieved from http://www.parkinson.ca/site/c.kgLNIWODKpF/b.5184077/k.CDD1/What_is_Parkinsons.htm