If you’re a caregiver for an older adult with Parkinson’s disease, you know one day you might notice your loved one is awake and alert, while the next it feels impossible to get them out of bed. You might also hear about their hallucinations, endure their sleep disturbances and watch them struggle with memory retrieval.
These seniors could be showing signs of dementia, according to Dr. James Leverenz, MD, who works with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and who spoke during a recent Parkinson’s Foundation webinar about dementia. Board-certified in neurology, Leverenz has a specialty in Parkinson’s disease dementia and has been in practice for more than 20 years.
“Dementia is a change in thinking skills and behavior that interferes with the ability to function independently,” Leverenz explained. “But it’s important to understand that there are [also] people with mild dementia that do a lot on a regular basis.”
Leverenz said some forms of dementia can develop in seniors already living with Parkinson’s disease. This is known as Parkinson’s disease dementia, which he described as established Parkinson’s with the development of disturbances beyond just those related to motor skills, such as cognitive and behavioral disturbances.
One reason Parkinson’s and dementia can cross over is because both diseases are often associated with the presence of Lewy bodies, harmful protein deposits in the brain tissue.
While there aren’t many approved therapies for Parkinson’s dementia, Leverenz said a new rapid test for Lewy body changes he’s working on can check for aggregate proteins in spinal fluid—which could pick up cognitive issues earlier.
“The better we can diagnose, the more accurate we can be in treatment,” he said.
He explained that some signs of dementia with Lewy bodies to look for upon diagnosis include executive dysfunction, apathy, depression, agitation, memory loss and psychosis.
Some signs of dementia with Lewy bodies to look for upon diagnosis include executive dysfunction, apathy, depression, agitation, memory loss and psychosis.
However, he said some seniors with Parkinson’s who are showing more confusion may not be developing dementia. He said increased confusion in these patients can happen as a result of a UTI, so they should seek an evaluation from a physician before assuming any diagnosis.
If seniors with Parkinson’s are showing increased signs of dementia, Leverenz also recommends caregivers start simplifying their schedule so they can more easily identify behavioral patterns and changes that could influence diagnosis and treatment.