Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that damages the central nervous system. The condition affects mainly adults over the age of 65.

The Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that 930,000 Americans will be living with the disease by 2020.

Parkinson’s can cause a condition called Parkinson’s disease dementia. This condition is marked by a decline in thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving.

An estimated 50 to 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s will eventually experience Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Though Parkinson’s disease itself is separated in five stages, Parkinson’s disease dementia isn’t as well understood.

Studies have shown that dementia is present in about 83 percent of those still living with the disease after 20 years.

The Weill Institute for Neurosciences estimates the average time from onset of movement problems in Parkinson’s to developing dementia is approximately 10 years.

As dementia progresses, managing disorientation, confusion, agitation, and impulsivity can be a key component of care.

Some patients experience hallucinations or delusions as a complication of Parkinson’s disease. These may be frightening and debilitating. Approximately 50 percent of those with the disease may experience them.

The best thing to do when giving care to someone experiencing hallucinations or delusions from Parkinson’s disease dementia is to keep them calm and reduce their stress.

Take note of their symptoms and what they were doing before they exhibited signs of hallucinating and then let their doctor know.

This element of the disease can be particularly challenging for caregivers. Patients may become unable to care for themselves or be left alone.

Some ways to make caregiving easier include:

  • sticking to a normal routine whenever possible
  • being extra comforting after any medical procedures
  • limiting distractions
  • using curtains, nightlights, and clocks to help stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • remembering that the behaviors are a factor of the disease and not the person

The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease dementia include:

  • changes in appetite
  • changes in energy levels
  • confusion
  • delusions
  • paranoid ideas
  • hallucinations
  • depression
  • difficulty with memory recall and forgetfulness
  • inability to concentrate
  • inability to apply reasoning and judgment
  • increased anxiety
  • mood swings
  • loss of interest
  • slurred speech
  • sleep disturbances

Diagnoses of Lewy body dementia (LBD) include dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Symptoms in both of these diagnoses can be similar.

Lewy body dementia is a progressive dementia caused by abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. Lewy bodies are also seen in Parkinson’s disease.

The overlap in symptoms between Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease dementia include movement symptoms, rigid muscles, and problems with thinking and reasoning.

This seems to indicate that they could be linked to the same abnormalities, though more research is needed to confirm that.

The later stages of Parkinson’s disease have more severe symptoms that may require help moving around, around-the-clock care, or a wheelchair. Quality of life can decline rapidly.

Risks of infection, incontinence, pneumonia, falls, insomnia, and choking increase.

Hospice care, memory care, home health aides, social workers, and support counselors can be a help in later stages.

Parkinson’s disease itself isn’t fatal, but complications can be.

Research has shown a median survival rate of about 9 years after diagnosis and those with Parkinson’s disease dementia had an average shortened lifespan by about 1 to 2 years.

There’s some correlation between dementia and increased risk of mortality, but it’s also possible to live for many years with the disease.

No single test can diagnose Parkinson’s disease dementia. Instead, doctors rely on a series or combination of tests and indicators.

Your neurologist will likely diagnose you with Parkinson’s and then track your progression. They may monitor you for signs of dementia. As you get older, your risk for Parkinson’s dementia increases.

Your doctor is more likely to conduct regular testing to monitor your cognitive functions, memory recall, and mental health.

A chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine helps control and coordinate muscle movement. Over time, Parkinson’s disease destroys the nerve cells that make dopamine.

Without this chemical messenger, the nerve cells can’t properly relay instructions to the body. This causes a loss of muscle function and coordination. Researchers don’t know why these brain cells disappear.

Parkinson’s disease also causes dramatic changes in a part of your brain that controls movement.

Those with Parkinson’s disease often experience motor symptoms as a preliminary sign of the condition. Tremors are one of the most common first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

As the disease progresses and spreads in your brain, it can affect the parts of your brain responsible for mental functions, memory, and judgment.

Over time, your brain may not be able to use these areas as efficiently as it once did. As a result, you may begin experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease dementia.

You have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease dementia if:

  • you’re a person with a penis
  • you’re older
  • you have existing mild cognitive impairment
  • you have more severe symptoms of motor impairment, such
    as rigidity and gait disturbance
  • you have been diagnosed with psychiatric symptoms related
    to Parkinson’s disease, such as depression

No single drug or treatment can cure Parkinson’s disease dementia. Currently, doctors focus on a treatment plan that helps relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Some of the medications, however, can make dementia and related mental symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor to determine the right care and medications for you.

If you’re aware of increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease dementia, start a diary and record what you’re experiencing. Note when symptoms occur, how long they last, and if medicine helped.

If you’re caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s disease, keep a journal for them. Record the symptoms they experience, how often they occur, and any other relevant information.

Present this journal to your neurologist at your next appointment to see if the symptoms are related to Parkinson’s disease dementia or possibly another condition.