Watching our loved ones grow older and develop memory loss can be a heartwrenching and challenging experience. Memory loss can result from a variety of conditions that affect the brain’s functionality.
If you’re caregiving for an elderly family member, you may have already heard of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are disorders of the brain that disrupt how it processes information.
Damage to the brain from these conditions can affect how nerve cells work, leading to:
- Memory loss
- Difficulties managing daily life
- Issues with movement and balance
- Issues with cognitive function
- Behavioral changes
- A need for additional care and support
Typically, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are considered different diseases; however, some common clinical and neuropathologic factors can result in the overlapping of these 2 conditions.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder of the brain, with symptoms that appear gradually and worsen over time. As the condition progresses, patients may experience difficulties with:
- Mental and behavioral changes
- Memory loss
Parkinson’s disease affects about 50% more men than women, and most people develop this condition in their early 60s. Early-onset Parkinson’s is typically inherited, and studies have linked this form to certain types of genetic mutations.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease generally affects and impairs the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain’s substantia nigra. This damage leads to a decrease in dopamine production, affecting movement and coordination.
This condition may also affect other neurotransmitters responsible for regulating functions like sweating, digestion, energy levels, and blood pressure.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease has 4 main symptoms:
- Trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Body stiffness
- Slow movements
- Impaired balance and coordination
Other symptoms of Parkinson’s can include:
- Emotional and behavioral changes
- Difficulties chewing and swallowing
- Trouble speaking
- Issues with bowels
- Difficulty sleeping
The progression of this disease can affect each person differently, and sometimes early symptoms are dismissed as the effects of the normal aging process.
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are some medicines and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that causes the death of brain cells, resulting in memory loss and cognitive decline. Memory loss can range from mild to moderate impairment, with later stages developing into severe cognitive decline.
People with Alzheimer’s experience difficulties remembering events, reasoning, and recognizing familiar people or places. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease require 24-hour support and memory care in later stages.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s presents as plaque in the brain, resulting in a loss of connection between nerve cells and neurons in parts of the brain that store memory, like the hippocampus.
This widespread destruction of cells creates difficulties passing information between different areas of the brain, or between the brain and other parts of the body.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include memory loss, and:
- Difficulties in learning and remembering information
- Repeating questions
- Losing objects
- Wandering or getting lost in familiar places
- Reduced understanding of safety and risks
- Difficulties making decisions
- Loss of balance
- Lack of spatial awareness
- Difficulties speaking
- Troubles with reading and writing
- Changes to personality
- Feeling irritated or restless
- Compulsive or obsessive behavior
- Socially inappropriate behavior
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients require 24-hour support and care.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but treatments and supports are available to help improve the quality of life for someone with this condition.
People with memory loss often benefit from the 24-hour specialized care provided by a memory support facility. Memory support communities offer personalized programs with a specific focus on cognitive abilities and memory enhancement.
Is There a Link?
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are both progressive brain disorders affecting memory, coordination, and communication. Still, studies have not found any links, and there are a few significant differences between these 2 conditions
- The onset is different: Parkinson’s disease typically begins with movement and coordination issues, and Alzheimer’s generally presents with confusion and memory loss.
- These conditions affect the brain differently: Parkinson’s-related dementia results from abnormal alpha-synuclein deposits (common brain proteins). In Alzheimer’s disease, brain changes result from abnormal structures created by amyloid plaques.
- Cognitive symptoms are different: At the onset of symptoms, Alzheimer’s disease typically affects language and memory, whereas Parkinson’s affects mood, speed of thought, and problem-solving.
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease share a few common symptoms, but there does not appear to be any links, studies, or evidence between these 2 conditions.
Support When You Need it
We’re always available to help! If you know someone with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease that needs additional support, contact our knowledgeable staff at Fox Trail Mahwah. We offer tailored memory support services, and are passionate about improving the quality of life for seniors.