Understanding Parkinson’s Disease & Other Types of Dementia

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Dementia is a general term for describing symptoms impacting cognitive functions such as memory, thinking, and behavior. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that causes uncontrollable movements. 

Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia are some types of dementia. While there is no cure for dementia, memory care programs in senior living can enhance the physical and emotional well-being of loved ones with cognitive decline. 

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. It occurs when dopamine-producing cells in the brain die or become damaged, causing a lack of dopamine in the body. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps with movements, emotions, and feelings of pleasure and reward. When cells in the brain that produce dopamine die, a person with Parkinson’s disease may experience the following symptoms:

  • Tremors in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slowed movements
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination

In addition to motor symptoms, people with Parkinson’s disease can experience difficulty with talking and walking and cognitive and behavioral symptoms, including sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue. Progression of the disease can lead to Parkinson’s dementia with severe memory and thinking problems. 

While medications can help replenish dopamine levels and control symptoms, therapy and a holistic approach to well-being can empower individuals to maintain an active and fulfilling life.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia, often misconstrued as a single disorder, is an umbrella term for a group of cognitive impairments that interfere with daily life. Dementia is not a normal part of aging and can present with the following symptoms:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Decreased reasoning, judgment, and problem-solving
  • Trouble understanding visual perception
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Problems with finding the right words
  • Forgetting the names of family and friends
  • Short-term memory
  • Inability to complete tasks independently

The cause of dementia is various diseases that damage brain cells. Depending on which brain region the cells become damaged, it affects the functioning of that region. Damaged brain cells affect their ability to communicate with each other, causing problems with thinking, behavior, and memory.

Types of Dementia

Different types of dementia are associated with particular types of brain cell damage in the regions of the brain. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, accounting for 60–80% of cases. It’s characterized by changes to the brain caused by protein deposits and fibers of protein that lead to the gradual destruction of brain cells. Symptoms can include memory loss, confusion, difficulty in problem-solving, and changes in behavior.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia accounts for 10% of cases and is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, often due to strokes or other vascular issues. Symptoms can include impaired judgment and difficulty planning and organizing tasks.

Lewy Body Dementia 

Lewy body dementia is associated with abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies in the brain. Lewy body dementia shares characteristics of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms can include visual hallucinations, fluctuating alertness, and motor symptoms. 

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a group of disorders characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, leading to loss of function in these brain regions. Symptoms can include changes in personality, behavior, and language. 

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia

Parkinson’s disease dementia develops in individuals with Parkinson’s disease as it progresses. As brain changes spread, a person experiences cognitive decline in addition to movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s. Symptoms can include memory loss, impaired judgment, and difficulty with daily activities.

Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia is when some individuals exhibit a combination of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia or other types. Symptoms are varied depending on the specific combinations of dementia types.

Diagnosis of Dementia & Parkinson’s Disease

A healthcare professional usually diagnoses dementia and Parkinson’s disease by looking at an individual’s medical history, presenting symptoms, a physical exam, and conducting a neurological examination. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and dementia, treatments aim to protect the brain from further damage and manage symptoms. 

Caring for someone with dementia and Parkinson’s disease often requires assistance with activities of daily living, a supportive environment that fosters emotional well-being, and programs and therapies to improve quality of life and independence as much as possible. 

A senior man with a cane with a nurse and other seniors, smiling and looking directly at the camera

Comprehensive Memory Care

Understanding Parkinson’s disease and types of dementia can help loved ones and family members recognize the symptoms and seek treatment in the early stages. Managing Parkinson’s disease and dementia through medication, lifestyle changes, and emotional support can help improve quality of life and prolong independence.

Juniper Village at Louisville’s memory care program offers personalized support for those living with dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Contact us to learn how our team can help improve the quality of life for your loved one. 

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