Understanding Parkinson's Disease and Dementia

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable neurological disorder, with progressively worsening complications. Perhaps the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s is a hand tremor, but it can also cause speech changes, muscle rigidity, and impaired posture. Eventually, as the disease progresses, more than half of all individuals with Parkinson’s will require dementia care. This particular type of dementia is referred to as Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Brain Changes

Parkinson’s disease causes devastating changes of the brain. These changes first begin in the area of the brain responsible for movement. Eventually, the effects spread, and begin to affect executive function. Specifically, people with Parkinson’s disease have abnormal deposits called Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are primarily comprised of a protein called alpha-synuclein. Lewy bodies are also a hallmark of Lewy body dementia, although this type of dementia and the dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease are not necessarily the same. In addition to Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease dementia is characterized by the development of plaques and tangles, which are both also present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms

On average, people with Parkinson’s disease who develop dementia do so in about 10 years after the initial diagnosis. Some of the common signs and symptoms of this type of dementia include:

  • Problems with visual information interpretation
  • Muffled speech
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Problems with concentration, memory, and judgment
  • Sleep disturbances

Diagnostic Guidelines

There is no single test that can definitively diagnose Parkinson’s disease dementia, nor is there a combination of tests. Primarily, a diagnosis is based on a doctor’s observation of the symptoms, and the timeframe in which those symptoms developed. For example, if dementia symptoms developed within one year of the onset of the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, then the individual is said to have dementia with Lewy bodies. If the dementia symptoms developed at least one year after the movement symptoms, then the individual is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Here at Avalon Memory Care, our dedicated professionals provide continuous care in Dallas, Houston, and Arlington, including medication management. Our specially designed and comfortably furnished residences are home to individuals with any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Families can call (214) 752-7050 to inquire about available accommodations.

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