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What is Parkinson disease? – 2

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Do people with Parkinson get dementia?

As Parkinson’s progresses, it will cause dementia in approximately 50-80% of sufferers.  The dementia experienced by people with PD is associated with abnormalities that start in the mid-brain. These include difficulties with attention, organizing, multi-tasking, shifting attention, task completion, decision-making, problem solving, memory retrieval and word-finding.

This can be compared to Alzheimer’s dementia, which typically starts in the entorhinal cortex, and often next spreads to the hippocampus, the area where memories are formed. The result is that Alzheimer’s disease tends to present first as short term memory loss.

When cognitive decline and/or dementia appears less than a year before, or at the same time, as the onset of motor symptoms the diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), may be made.  When the motor symptoms appear more than a year before the dementia, it is generally diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. The two can appear very similar. People with PD or LBD both have abnormal clumps of proteins, called lewy bodies, in the brain stem. One of these proteins, alpha-synuclein, cannot be broken down by cells. Lewy bodies surround cells in the brain, causing the problems with motor coordination, and eventually leading to brain degeneration.

It is crucial that someone with PD takes their medication as prescribed and on time. If they do not, delirium may occur, the symptoms of which are similar to dementia. Thus, it is important to monitor how medications are taken. If you are concerned that dementia is developing, bring an accurate list of symptoms you are seeing or experiencing when you see your neurologist. If possible, your representative, a caregiver, friend or family member should be present during your appointment.

Where can we get more information?

While primary help must come from a trusted medical team, people with Parkinson’s and their family members and caregivers should also seek out support and information from an organization such as the Parkinson Society British Columbia. They will give you tips, literature, and tools for managing the emotional and practical symptoms of the disease. Counseling and support groups are also available through the Society.

Contact Parkinson Society of British Columbia by phone 604.662.3240 or toll free 1.800.668.3330 or by


  • Speak Slowly, Clearly and Carefully:Speak to them as an adult but use simple words that will not be misinterpreted
  • Ask Questionsthat can be answered with yes or no
  • Be Aware of Non-Verbal Communication:Verbalize how you think and feel clearly as body language is often not picked up easily.
  • Show and Talk:Use gestures while you speak (for example: motion to the door when asking if they want to go for a walk)
  • Repeat Important Information:If you are uncertain whether your message is clear repeat using different words
  • Encourage Exchange:Listen for their response and encourage them to speak
  • Choose the Best Time to Communicate:Avoid times when the individual is sleepy or feeling anxious or overwhelmed

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