Ask Rita: What's The Connection Between Parkinson's And Dementia?

, Sunrise VP of Memory Care Services  |  October 12, 2012

Rita Altman, Vice President of Memory Care Services discusses the relationship between Parkinson's disease and dementia, and what loved ones can expect as the disease progresses.

Q. Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. My dad is 86 with later stages of Parkinson's disease. Is memory loss (i.e. dementia or Alzheimer's) a part of this process with Parkinson's? I've not been kept informed in any detail, as desired by my sister [who is] in "charge," nor does she involve the caretakers in keeping me posted. They're wonderful, but she hires them, and so they do as asked...or not in this case.

I've been limited in my visits due to physical injuries, and I just want to understand more about the memory loss aspect in dealing with Parkinson's. My family means well, but there's a big disconnect and lack of regard in uniting together in love, which would be my approach if I were in charge.

I do call him, but it's 50/50 of his wanting to talk. The window [of time] in which he can talk gets smaller as time goes by. My big question is: will his memory fade to the degree of forgetting me, or, if not, to what degree, if memory is affected? He is really slow in conversation and he draws a lot of "blanks."

A. According to research, some persons affected by Parkinson's disease (PD) develop cognitive impairment. PD tends to most often affect "executive function," which means planning and organizing complex thought processes and keeping track of complex information, as well as slowed thinking processes and difficulty with word choices, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

In some cases, and especially in the later stages, PD can affect memory and cognition. Dementia tends to be more common when a person is older in age at the onset of Parkinson's, or in the later stages of the disease. It's also possible that a person can have both Parkinson's disease and other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia.

You describe your father as having very slow conversation and drawing blanks, and both can be seen in people with PD. Therefore, it's very important to give him time to process what you have said, as well as providing him with adequate time to respond. Listen patiently and try not to answer until you allow him to fully express himself. Talking by phone can be more challenging since you aren't directly in front of him to make eye contact and personally offering him your reassurance and support. I recommend calling him at a time of day when he typically has the most energy and strength. You also might want to try using Skype, especially if you aren't able to visit with him due to your physical injuries. This might also offer you and your family a communication bridge to discuss your father's ongoing needs.

I personally cannot conclusively answer your "big question" regarding whether his memory will fade to the degree of forgetting you because symptoms, as well as the progression of the disease, differs considerably among persons. With your father or his healthcare power of attorney's permission, I would recommend that you discuss this with his healthcare provider who can tell you more about your father's condition and prognosis. If there appears to be cognitive impairment, neuropsychological tests or other diagnostic studies can be done to determine his diagnosis and prognosis, as well as indicate the most appropriate treatment plan for him.

Do you have a question about a senior with memory loss for Rita? Post your question in the comments section of this article below and Rita may answer you!

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