True, Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder caused by dopamine deficiency, but it’s not just that. Cognitive changes in PD patients are more often than not present and disruptive to the patient, and unfortunately it’s often under-treated or not treated at all, leaving the sufferer frustrated and depressed. More physicians need to realize the importance of addressing cognitive and other nonmotor symptoms of PD.
Nearly every PD patient experiences some degree of cognitive change ranging from mild to severe. Some people who experience mild cognitive changes in memory or thinking ability consider them a mere nuisance; however others report symptoms noticeable enough to affect job performance and ability to manage things at home.
What are some of the types of cognitive changes that occur in Parkinson’s patients?
Executive dysfunctions affect higher order mental processes such as problem solving, planning, initiating and following through of tasks and multi-tasking. PD patients often describe getting overwhelmed or actually ‘freezing’ in situations requiring the formulation of a series of choices or tasks. PD patients are more effective in focusing on one goal or concept at a time.
Most PD patients experience memory disturbances. Remembering things that have already been learned is the most common difficulty reported. For a person with PD to effectively learn and more importantly retain new information, repetition may be necessary.
Attention difficulties pose a problem for the PD patient as the complexity of a situation increases. It is difficult for them to maintain focus or divide their attention. This can affect everyday activities such as walking, maintaining balance, and carrying on a conversation.
Bradyphrenia is a term that means (slowed mental processing). PD patients often report the disease affects how quickly they can process and respond to information. Slowness in information processing impacts other cognitive processes such as problem-solving and retrieving of information, as well as daily activities such as conversing.
Language dysfunction refers to the most common language related difficulty for those with PD, which is word-finding. As a person’s Parkinson’s progresses, they may find it more difficult to comprehend complex information, and may begin to use more simplified and less spontaneous speech.
Visual-spatial difficulties for PD patients that develop this type of cognitive change may begin to experience difficulty navigating around the house, or estimating distances when reaching for something, increasing their risk for falls. In extreme cases, visual-spatial problems may lead to visual misperceptions, or illusions.
In conclusion, cognitive changes are present to some varying degree in almost every person with Parkinson’s disease and they become more prominent as PD progresses. PD patients experiencing cognitive disturbances should consult their physicians to take advantage of the currently available medications and behavioral strategies.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for a physician’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or for a physician’s prescription of drugs or recommended treatment for Parkinson’s disease. If you believe you have Parkinson’s disease, contact a physician immediately and follow their instructions for treatment.