Symptoms and risk factors to know



Parkinson’s dementia occurs when a person develops changes in their thinking and behavior after being diagnosed with a movement disorder.

While Parkinson’s disease is primarily known as a movement disorder, with characteristic symptoms that include tremor at rest, stiffness, and slowness of movement, there are also non-motor symptoms associated with the disease. One of these non-motor symptoms, dementia, occurs up to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease.

As with all symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, dementia manifests itself differently from person to person, but the overall indicator is cognitive impairment. Here’s what you need to know about Parkinson’s disease dementia.

What are the criteria for dementia in Parkinson’s disease?

Many people with Parkinson’s disease experience cognitive changes (such as difficulty planning and multitasking), but not all develop full-blown dementia. So when does Parkinson’s disease cause dementia?

On average, it happens about 10 years after a person begins to have movement problems.

“It happens many years after someone developed Parkinson’s disease”, Lynda Nwabuobi, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology at Weill Cornell Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Institute, recounts Health. “It can take 10 to 15 years.

In fact, if someone shows signs of dementia early in their Parkinson’s diagnosis (say, less than a year), they may have been misdiagnosed from the start. “They might have Lewy Body Dementia,” says Dr Nwabuobi.

Timing is the main factor in Lewy body dementia compared to Parkinson’s disease dementia. Although the two may sound very similar, symptoms of dementia do occur. before motor symptoms in Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease, the reverse is true.

“If you look at the brain, it’s hard to tell them apart,” says Dr. Litvan. “But clinically, they are different.”

What are the signs and symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease dementia cannot be conclusively diagnosed with just one test. Instead, doctors can use multiple tests and consider a range of criteria, including symptoms As:

  • Feelings of disorientation or confusion
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not real)
  • Delusions, characterized by paranoid thoughts or suspicion
  • Visuo-perceptual problems
  • Difficulty finding words (many times “on the tip of the tongue”)
  • Misnamed objects
  • Difficulty understanding complex sentences.

However, the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease dementia are usually not so obvious. It could start with mild cognitive issues such as changes in a person’s executive function and their ability to plan and multitask. People may find it difficult to manage their appointments, pay their bills, or weigh options when given a choice. They may also have difficulty concentrating during a conversation, which makes it difficult for them to function in certain social settings.

Not all cases of dementia are serious – some people with Parkinson’s can still manage their work and life very well. But once a person has dementia from Parkinson’s disease, it usually means that they can no longer go about their daily lives as before.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease Dementia?

Parkinson's disease
Credit: Georg Arthur Pflueger

Doctors don’t yet know the exact cause of dementia from Parkinson’s disease, but they believe it has to do with a build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein. When it builds up in the brain, it can create clumps called “Lewy bodies” in nerve cells, causing them to die.

The death of these cells usually results in the motor symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s disease. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, these Lewy bodies can eventually damage the brain and cause memory and thinking problems.

Although many people with Parkinson’s disease experience cognitive changes, not all will develop dementia. It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of people with the disease eventually develop Parkinson’s disease dementia, usually in the later stages of the disease.

What is the difference between memory loss and Parkinson’s dementia?

Both Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease can affect the Memory, but not in the same way.

Generally, Parkinson’s dementia is not associated with the type of memory loss that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. In other words: it usually does not impact a person’s ability to absorb and store new memories or information in the way Alzheimer’s Is.

“You can learn [with Parkinson’s dementia], but it is difficult to retrieve the information you have in your brain ”, Irene Litvan, MD, director of the Movement Disorder Center at the University of California at San Diego, recounts Health. “You might not know where the tape is, but if someone asks you, ‘Where were you when you lost it?’ You can say, ‘Oh, I was there.’ “

But that doesn’t mean Parkinson’s dementia doesn’t affect memory. at all. On the contrary, some people with Parkinson’s dementia do experience short- and long-term memory loss. They may also forget how to perform simple tasks, such as how to operate the dishwasher. And since Parkinson’s disease can affect people in different ways, there’s no way to tell if someone with the disease will experience dementia-related memory loss.

Who gets dementia from Parkinson’s disease?

No two cases of Parkinson’s disease are the same, so it’s hard to say for sure who will develop Parkinson’s dementia and who will not. However, researchers have identified several factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia from Parkinson’s disease, including:

  • Older age, especially when symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have started
  • Be a man
  • Progress to an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease
  • Experiencing visual hallucinations
  • More severe motor symptoms
  • Have a history of dementia in your family

People with Parkinson’s disease may want to consider planning for their future as soon as possible, especially if they have certain risk factors or notice cognitive changes. That way, if their cognitive symptoms progress, their advance planning can help caregivers with dementia (who have struggled during the pandemic) to better achieve their wishes.

People generally live on average five to seven years with the disease, but the prognosis for dementia from Parkinson’s disease may vary from person to person.

What is the treatment for dementia in Parkinson’s disease?

Considering the symptoms, dementia is took into consideration one of the most destructive non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Although there is no cure for the disease, medications are available to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease dementia and improve a person’s quality of life.

A doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as practicing sleep hygiene, eating a balanced diet, exercising, and avoiding alcohol, to help improve brain health and overall well-being.

If a loved one with Parkinson’s disease shows signs of dementia, contact their doctor for a proper diagnosis.

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