Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition that develops over time in different stages. Unfortunately, one risk factor for Parkinson's disease is age. Although most people with Parkinson’s first develop the disease around 60 years old, about 5 to 10 percent of those with Parkinson's have "early-onset" disease, which can begin before the age of 50.
While Parkinson’s disease and memory loss may not be commonly associated with each other, recent studies have shown that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of those with Parkinson’s may develop a form of dementia. Brickmont Assisted Living believes that educating the public on senior health conditions is important. For this reason, we want to explain and provide an understanding of Parkinson’s disease and its relationship with dementia and memory loss.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that occurs when nerve cells in an area of the brain that controls movement become impaired and/or die. Typically, these nerve cells produce a brain chemical known as dopamine. When less dopamine is produced, it causes the movement problems of Parkinson's. Unfortunately, researchers still do not know what causes these cells that produce dopamine to die.
Due to these changes in dopamine levels, early symptoms revolve almost entirely around movement, including shakiness, tremors, stiffness, difficulty initiating movement, and a lack of facial reactions due to loss of control of the muscles. As Parkinson’s disease progresses further, it can begin to affect other parts of the brain and cause other mental functions to decline, such as memory loss.
The stages of Parkinson’s disease vary from person to person, but there are typical patterns of progression that help define the stages.
- Stage 1 - During this stage of the disease, most symptoms are considered mild. The person can experience movement trouble or tremors on only one side of their body.
- Stage 2 - The severity of the symptoms will increase. Tremors, muscle stiffness, and movement troubles will begin to affect both sides of the body.
- Stage 3 - This stage is considered the mid-stage. Loss of balance and slowness in movement are both prevalent during this stage; however, a person in this stage can remain independent.
- Stage 4 - During this stage, the symptoms start limiting independence. It may still be possible for a person with stage four of Parkinson’s disease to stand, but walking may require assistance.
- Stage 5 - During this stage, the person is typically unable to move without full assistance and may experience memory or behavioral changes. This is the typical stage where Parkinson’s and dementia are closely tied together.
Parkinson’s Disease Dementia: What’s The Difference?
There are many types of dementia, and each affects the mind differently. The key brain changes linked to Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia are abnormal microscopic deposits composed primarily of alpha-synuclein (a protein that is abundant in the human brain). These deposits are called “Lewy bodies” after Frederick H. Lewy, M.D., the neurologist who discovered them during the early 1900s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Lewy bodies are also found in several other brain disorders, including Lewy body dementia (LBD). Evidence suggests that Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease dementia may be linked to the same underlying abnormalities in the brain processing of alpha-synuclein.”
A Hopeful Future
As with other forms of dementia, we do not fully understand the cause or have a known cure for Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson’s disease dementia. However, researchers are hard at work to develop a cure and to better understand how the condition works and how we can prevent it. One of the major driving forces for Parkinson’s disease research comes from The Michael J. Fox Foundation. This foundation, started by actor Michael J. Fox, has funded over $800 million in Parkinson’s research since its inception in 2000, several years after his public announcement that he was diagnosed with the disease.
While we may not have a cure, we do have methods of care that seek to provide support and a stable environment for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or memory loss. Brickmont Assisted Living offers assisted living and memory care options at our senior living communities throughout Georgia.
If you have any questions regarding Brickmont Assisted Living or would like to learn more about our services, please contact one of our senior living experts.