April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, an opportunity for all of us to gain a greater understanding of the disease that impacts over 200,000 Americans each year.
Many are familiar with Parkinson’s disease through the experiences of public figures like actor and writer, Michael J. Fox, who has courageously shared his journey with the disease and become an advocate for Parkinson’s awareness and research.
But what is this neuro-degenerative disease? Can it lead to dementia?
The Parkinson’s Foundation defines Parkinson’s as “a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly the dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called the substantia nigra.” In layman’s terms, this is a disease that attacks the neurons that control motor activity, which causes uncontrollable movements, including shaking, stiffness, and coordination issues.
Here are some important things to know about Parkinson’s disease:
- Nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
- Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.
- Genetics cause about 10-15% of all Parkinson’s cases.
- The incidence of Parkinson’s increases after age 65, affecting nearly 2% of this population.
- Some individuals with Parkinson’s will go on to develop Parkinson’s dementia.
- Parkinson’s disease, as with Alzheimer’s has no cure.
What exactly is the relationship between Parkinson’s and dementia?
- The Alzheimer’s Association cites findings from one study that three-quarters of individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease will go on to develop what is referred to as Parkinson’s dementia.
- Parkinson’s dementia involves key brain changes in the form of microscopic deposits called “Lewy bodies” (after Frederick Lewy, the neurologist who discovered them).
- Parkinson’s dementia develops, on average, about ten years after onset of Parkinson’s disease.
- As with Alzheimer’s, there is no single test that conclusively determines a person to have Parkinson’s dementia. Rather it is the accumulation of behavioral observation as well as a medical evaluation that leads to the diagnosis.
- Symptoms can appear very similar to other dementias, such as Alzheimer’s. They include changes in memory and concentration, trouble interpreting visual information, irritability, and paranoia.
As a care provider focused 100% on dementia care, we are very familiar with the challenges a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease brings to families. If you are in this situation, know that there are resources and support networks available to help you better understand the disease and cope with the journey ahead.
Here are a few we have found to be especially helpful:
As we acknowledge Parkinson’s Awareness Month, it benefits all of us to learn more about the disease as well as other neurological diseases and disorders that have the potential to impact our lives and the lives of those we love and care for.