On Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease in My Dad

If you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of potential Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms, chances are that you’ve encountered dementia. The infamous dementia grabs hold of our faculties, causing changes to the brain’s ability to remember information, and make appropriate judgements.

But it can also impact our problem solving skills, and additional cognitive abilities. According to the CDC: "Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities." But what does this have to do with Parkinson’s disease?1

Cognitive changes

Dementia can develop in PD, but it doesn’t usually do so until at least a year after the diagnosis. It’s believed that structural and chemical changes that occur to the brain because of Parkinson’s may impact cognitive functions.2

Common dementia symptoms may impact memory recall, attention, and making judgements. But, evidently, there can be changes to cognitive function without them being categorized as dementia.2

My Dad, for example, doesn’t always have the perfect recall when it comes to distant terms that haven’t played a significant role in his life. Yet he’s still capable of making judgement calls.

Why does it occur?

Researchers still aren’t entirely sure how the brain is damaged in Parkinson’s disease. But it’s certain that the damage is what leads to dementia.3

While Alzheimer’s is likely to impact memory and language, PD related dementia is much more likely to rear its head as it relates to problem solving, speed, and memory.3

Who experiences dementia?

Not everyone with Parkinson’s disease also experiences dementia. However, recent estimates suggest that anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of Parkinson’s experience symptoms that relate to dementia.2

There are also some factors that may indicate whether or not a person with Parkinson’s may develop dementia at a later time.

For example, if you’re diagnosed with the disease at a late stage of your life, or you’ve ever experienced some form of cognitive impairment, you may be more likely to experience dementia as the disease progresses.2

As it relates to me and Dad

I’ve become curious about dementia for a number of reasons. I like to study potential threats before they’re upon us. My dad isn’t really exhibiting dementia indicators, as far as I can tell (but I’d like to note that I’m not a medical professional and it’s always best to seek clinical help for diagnosis and symptoms.)

But we’ve had moments where it seemed like my dad’s recall was less measured than previously. These moments breed curiosity in my brain, and I can’t help but look for potential causes. But are the changes due to old age? Or to Parkinson’s disease?

There is some level of degeneration in all of us, after all. I don’t know if I should expect to see dementia symptoms in my dad in the future. He seems sharp right now, for which I am grateful. But I continue to study all of his symptoms just in case we have a chance encounter.

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