The destruction of brain cells causes the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, the two diseases impact the brain in different ways and progress in different ways.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are both neurological diseases. Both can involve dementia, as well as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations can also occur in both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s Doesn’t Always Mean Dementia
With Parkinson’s, the brain cells that produce dopamine are lost or damaged. Dopamine is an important brain chemical involved in nerve cell communication; it lives in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra.
Cognitive decline is less likely to occur in Parkinson’s patients. According to studies1, only half of those with Parkinson’s develop cognitive difficulties. This can range from mild forgetfulness to full-blown dementia.
Parkinson’s Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Dementia
Parkinson’s dementia occurs in the “subcortical” area of the brain and Alzheimer’s dementia occurs in the “cortical” area of the brain. As a result, the clinical symptoms of these two dementias can be somewhat different.
According to the experts1, Parkinson’s dementia impairs physical activity and impacts motor skills. It can also slow the thought process and cause some memory problems.
With Alzheimer’s, storing new information and memory retrieval are issues.
Distinguishing between these neurodegenerative conditions is important. The diagnosis determines the best treatment approach. Medications for one disease might cause an adverse reaction when given to a patient with the other disease.
Both disorders affect people differently, manifest themselves differently and progress at different rates.
My Father had Parkinson’s and Mother had Dementia
My experience was that Parkinson’s progressed slower, and was motor-related. My father experienced tremors, and changes in his walking and facial expressions. But his cognitive ability was relatively intact up to the very last stages of the disease.
My mother’s dementia made her more feeble and uncertain on her feet. Yet she remained active and mobile, even as her cognitive ability declined.
How to Prevent the Risks of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
There is currently no “cure” for either disease. Parkinson’s is more treatable, especially in the early stages of the disease. The good news? Research suggests that a brain-healthy lifestyle can help prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.2
- Diet and nutrition, fitness and overall health can have help prevent both diseases. Doctors have long recommended brain-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet. These can help promote cognitive health by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
- At least 30-minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, 3-4 days a week, is also considered preventative.
- Seven to eight-hours of sleep every night are also recommended. Read our tips to improve sleep.
- Stress and hypertension can create additional health risks, so it’s important to strive for emotional well-being.
- Social interaction and engaging in mentally stimulating activities also have positive benefits for our brains.
Caring For a Person with Dementia
Practice patience and understanding when your family member lives with dementia. You may be very frustrated and challenged as a caregiver, but those with dementia are also frustrated and challenged.
Seek help and support from family and friends and caregiving support groups. Take advantage of the resources in your community. Shouldering all the burden can take its toll on a caregiver.
Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of your loved one. Follow this preventive advice. And take deep breaths!