Most people with Parkinson’s disease will notice a decrease in their memory and mental agility, even in the early stages of the disease. It is very likely that your PD also affects your thinking to some extent. But the effect is subtle.
For example, you may notice that it takes longer to retrieve memories, make decisions, calculate costs, or plan a trip. This general mental dullness is affected by your mood, and in turn, your memory can sometimes negatively affect your mood.
The good news is that new research in the field of cognitive rehabilitation has begun that could be very effective in reversing this mental retardation.
Overview of memory and cognitive changes
Even in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, people can have difficulty with their thought processes. Most pundits agree that the main difficulty lies in so-called executive cognitive functions.
Executive cognitive functions refer to thought processes such as memory retrieval, planning, word or concept generation, attention, and monitoring and adjustment of unconventional and goal-directed behaviors. What all these executive functions have in common is that they require cognitive control to function smoothly.
The term cognition refers to the processes or operations involved in processing various kinds of information. Therefore, cognitive control processes are the processes used by the brain and the brain to regulate the storage, retrieval and use of information (thinking).
In early PD, problems with executive function are usually mild. They usually involve a general slowing of cognitive processing (bradykinesia) and subtle deficits in attention and working memory. For example, it may be difficult to keep two different pieces of information in your mind at the same time, or to generate words and concepts as quickly and efficiently as in the past. As the disease progresses, these executive cognitive deficits can be exacerbated by common Parkinson’s-related mood disorders and Parkinson’s-related mood problems such as depression and anxiety.
Effects of memory and cognitive changes
While you seem well aware that your emotional state can have a major impact on your thinking, the reverse is also true: your thinking can sometimes strongly influence your emotional state. You know the proverbial story of two people who see the same glass of water but one thinks it’s half full and the other thinks it’s half empty? The same goes for thinking and emotional states.
Sometimes, your evaluation of a situation affects your emotional response to the situation. More generally, executive cognitive functions can affect your emotional state because these executive functions control all the information you have about your environment. Executive function controls your “assessment” of these situations. If you find it difficult to recall happy memories, you may become more sad or depressed. If you find it difficult to plan your vacation, you may delay it, affecting your emotional state, etc.
Problems with executive function can also get you into trouble with serious issues like money. If you find it difficult to balance your checkbook, your finances may be a little sloppy. Also consider that the extra dopamine rush from taking dopamine medications can sometimes make you temporarily more energetic and impulsive. Now, when you combine a high level of impulsiveness with a reduced ability to think about decisions effectively, you sometimes have impulsive responses—bad decisions.
A final problem with executive function is that it affects caregivers. Numerous studies have shown that caring for someone with executive function difficulties is more difficult than caring for someone without cognitive problems.
For all of these reasons, it’s important to take seriously any memory/cognitive problems you may have. They may seem like minor annoyances, but over time they pack a punch. There’s no point in leaving them unattended, especially when an effective remedy is on the horizon — and there is.
Cognitive assessments can be used to assess cognitive problems associated with Parkinson’s disease. Knowing your most problematic areas allows an occupational therapist to design treatments that are most helpful to you personally. In some cases, cognitive training can lead to long-term improvement in symptoms, especially those related to processing speed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Parkinson’s Disease Affect Memory?
it can. Some people with Parkinson’s disease develop mild cognitive impairment. The brain changes that cause motor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease can also lead to deficits in memory, comprehension, and attention.
Cognitive changes associated with Parkinson’s disease affect both short-term working memory and long-term memory.
How fast does Parkinson’s dementia progress?
Cognitive problems can start in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Executive function skills such as memory retrieval, planning, word or concept generation, and attention are often the first noticeable cognitive changes.
Memory problems gradually worsen throughout the course of the disease. In addition, the mood disturbances and mood problems that accompany Parkinson’s disease can exacerbate memory problems. Depression and anxiety are very common in the later stages of the disease.
However, everyone with Parkinson’s disease is different. While some people may experience severe cognitive deficits and mood disturbances, others may not.
How does Parkinson’s disease affect mental health?
Brain changes associated with Parkinson’s disease can lead to mood disturbances and personality changes. Common mental health conditions that may accompany Parkinson’s disease include:
Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS)
- dopamine dysregulation syndrome
- Impulse control disorder
- mental illness
Can Parkinson’s Disease Cause Hallucinations?
Yes, people with Parkinson’s disease often experience hallucinations. While this can be scary, hallucinations are usually harmless as long as they’re not disruptive or disturbing to a person.
Hallucinations are usually caused by an underlying cause that can be treated, such as an infection or a side effect of a medication.
If a loved one with Parkinson’s disease is prone to hallucinations, try to create a calm, quiet environment with the right temperature and not too much or too little light. You should admit to the hallucination, keep the other person calm, and try to change the subject.