Understanding the Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

By Carisa Campanella, Program Manager, Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s

Understanding the Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms of Parkinson’s DiseaseParkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects over one million people in the United States with 60,000 new cases being identified each year. Parkinson’s disease is caused by a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine; a chemical messenger in the brain which helps regulate movement. The four cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are unilateral tremor of a hand or limb at rest, muscle stiffness and rigidity, slowness of movement, and challenges with balance and stability. People with Parkinson’s disease may also experience chronic constipation, loss of sense of smell, lack of facial expression, and diminished vocal amplitude.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that are not as well known to the general public but can be equally if not more debilitating are the cognitive and behavioral symptoms. People with Parkinson’s often have cognitive challenges such as slowness in processing information, which can lead to difficulty in keeping up with conversations. They may also have memory deficiencies, trouble finding words, and easily lose their train of thought. People with Parkinson’s can experience what is known as “cognitive fatigue,” an excessive feeling of mental tiredness. Sometimes the ability to pay attention is compromised, as well as executive functioning, which is doing simple tasks in sequence such as the steps to turning on the TV or using a cell phone.

During the course of Parkinson’s disease, some people experience what is known as the behavioral symptoms of Parkinson’s. These symptoms can include depression, anxiety and apathy; and often are troublesome not only for the person with the disease but for the family and caregiver as well. People with Parkinson’s may also experience visual hallucinations such as seeing small children or animals in a room that aren’t actually there, or people sitting on furniture. Sometimes they experience delusional thinking, or false beliefs, such as thinking a spouse is unfaithful or that people are conspiring against them.

The good news is that the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Parkinson’s can be addressed and treated by a physician. In many instances, medications can be prescribed to help alleviate depression, anxiety, hallucinations and delusions. Regular exercise in a safe and structured environment can also be useful in helping relieve depression and enhancing cognitive functioning.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, see a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. For more information about Parkinson’s disease, programs and services in your area, or individualized Parkinson’s Care Advising, contact Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s at 941-926-6413 or visit www.neurochallenge.org.


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