Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are both neurological illnesses and share some similarities. Both diseases are caused by damaged brain cells, can involve dementia, as well as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Both conditions can lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Both can result in the need for home care assistance.
Despite these shared factors, the two diseases are actually quite distinct from each other. Each disease impacts the brain and affects people differently, manifests differently, and progress in different ways at different rates.
Families who have experienced both diseases have reported different experiences with each disease. Some have found Parkinson’s progressed at a slower rate and was more motor-related than mental compared to Alzheimers.
Some reported tremors, as well as changes in walking and facial expressions with Parkinson, but minimal impact on cognitive ability. Others say dementia caused their family members to be feeble and uncertain on their feet, but nevertheless able to be active and mobile, even with increasing cognitive decline and need for in home care.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects brain cells that produce dopamine, an important brain chemical involved in nerve cell communication. Dopamine is produced by nerve cells in a part of the brain called the Substantia Nigra, and these cells are responsible for relaying messages that plan and control body movement.
While there can be cognitive issues associated with Parkinson’s, there are usually more physical issues. These can include tremors, changes in posture, as well as changes in walking patterns and facial expressions.
Parkinson’s disease causes problems with motor coordination, especially initiating movement, consecutive movement, and slowness of movement. The brain circuit controlling rhythm and movement gets derailed by Parkinson’s. These changes can be the catalyst for in home care services.
Parkinson’s symptoms tend to develop slowly over the years. There are “five stages” of Parkinson’s, ranging from mild to more pronounced. Stage One does not interfere dramatically with a person’s daily life. In Stage Two, tremors and movement issues become more pronounced. In Stage Three, or the “mid-stage”, balance becomes an issue, falls are common, and getting dressed may be a challenge. A person with Stage Four Parkinson’s should probably not be living alone, as it becomes difficult to stand and live a fully independent life. In home care services and the support an in home care agency can provide can be invaluable at this stage.
Stage Five is the most debilitating stage. At this point, most people require a full-time in home care services and non-motor skill symptoms can start to manifest such as hallucinations, delusions, and dementia.
While there is no “cure” for Parkinson’s, it is considered a highly treatable condition. With proper diagnosis early on, many Parkinson’s patients continue to lead productive, self-sufficient lives for many years.
Parkinson’s Doesn’t Always Cause Dementia
While cognitive decline is common in both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is less likely to occur in Parkinson’s patients. According to studies, only half of those with Parkinson’s develop cognitive difficulties. This can range from mild forgetfulness to full-blown dementia.
When dementia does manifest itself with Parkinson’s, it occurs in the “subcortical” area of the brain. Alzheimer’s dementia occurs in the “cortical” area of the brain. As a result of this, the clinical symptoms and need for in home care services of these two dementias can be somewhat different.
Parkinson’s Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Dementia
According to experts, Parkinson’s dementia can cause impaired physical activity and impact motor skills. Two neurotransmitters (chemicals produced by brain cells) called dopamine and serotonin tend to be damaged by Parkinson’s.
In addition to causing issues with movement and coordination, this form of dementia can also cause a slower thought process and memory problems. This is usually less pronounced however, until the later stages of the disease.
With Alzheimer’s, two types of proteins in the brain, tangles (tau) and plaques (beta amyloid), accumulate and kill brain cells. This Alzheimer’s-induced dementia affects memory, clear thinking, language skills, and orientation. It reduces comprehension, learning capacity, and judgement. Storing new information and memory retrieval are impacted more than motor skills.
Distinguishing between these neurodegenerative conditions is important to determine the best treatment approach and level of care in the home required. Medications for one condition might create problems when given to a patient with the other condition.
7 Ways to Decrease the Risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
There is currently no “cure” for either disease. Parkinson’s is considered a more treatable condition, especially in the early stages of the disease. Treatments include medication, physical therapy and lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes. Research continues to suggest that a brain-healthy lifestyle can help prevent both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Adopt a healthy diet with good nutrition. Brain-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean or “DASH” diet have proven to make a difference. Diets with fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, olive oil, beans, fish, poultry and dairy can protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, and promote cognitive health. By reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, these diets promote cognitive health. They can mitigate the risks of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Stay away from processed meats, butter, heavy cream and saturated fat. Too much sugar is also dangerous and is an inflammatory agent that can also lead to unhealthy weight gain.
- Fitness and exercise. At least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, 3-4 days a week, is considered a preventative measure. Build physical activity into the daily routine. It doesn’t have to be high impact, it can be walking, riding a stationary bike, or swimming.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep every night is recommended. Clinical studies have shown that insomnia and sleep quality can have a dramatic impact on the brain and overall well-being, and that sleep problems can contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease
- Control stress and hypertension. Stress can cause vascular dementia and create other health risks. Keep hypertension under control and protect against cognitive decline. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can all help. So can quiet time in a garden or listening to soothing, relaxing music. Emotional well-being enhances physical well-being.
- Engage in social interaction. Experts believe that social engagement promotes healthy longevity and can help prevent many diseases. Interacting with family and friends, participating in community activities, and taking a class can all keep the mind engaged and is nurturing on many fronts. Being alone and reclusive can cause depression and lead to cognitive decline.
- Ensure mental stimulation. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is always important. Reading books, doing crossword puzzles and other brain games, and playing card games are all stimulating activities. If the brain is active, it isn’t as likely to atrophy. An active mind and an active body help keep the brain healthy.
- Music therapy. The power of music in dementia care has long been thought to promote wellness and healing and to help manage stress. Listening to music, singing, even dancing or just tapping the feet and clapping the hands can be emotionally and physically rewarding. Music therapy has shown to help those with Parkinson’s as well.
Caring for Someone with Parkinson’s
Practice patience and understanding when dealing with and providing in home care for those with Parkinson’s. You may be very frustrated and challenged as a carer, but those with Parkinson’s are just as frustrated. Their physical and mental conditions can be debilitating, depressing and humiliating as care in the home becomes more of a requirement.
Diet and nutrition can have a huge impact on the health and comfort of a Parkinson’s patient. Eating well, getting more rest, sleeping well, fresh air, and exercise can make a difference. Getting the right medication and complementary therapies is also important.
As Parkinson’s impacts a patient’s motor skills, modifications to the living environment may have to be made to accommodate wheelchairs and limited mobility issues. Professional home care assistance for Parkinson’s can allow Parkinson’s patients to remain independent and can enhance quality of life.
Most importantly, seek help and support from family, friends, caring support groups and professionals in the aged care and in home health care space. Take advantage of the resources in your community. Shouldering all the burden can take its toll on a professional in home care agency, let alone a family carer.
As a carer, it is important to take care of yourself in order to be able to best take care of a loved one. Follow the preventive advice provided above for and take lots of deep breaths!
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As a leading age care provider, Home Care Assistance offers tailored in-home care services for older Australians, enabling them to live happier and healthier lives in the comfort of their own homes.
We offer private and government subsidised Care Packages and have office locations that are a registered NDIS provider. Our Care Workers undergo extensive training in order to deliver unmatched in-home aged care services where people can continue ageing in place. We are proud ambassadors of the My Aged Care government funded aged care program, enabling Australians to successfully navigate the process and gain approval for in-home care support packages. Home Care Assistance offers hourly care, specialised care, Alzheimer’s and Dementia care, hospital to home care, and 24 hour in home care.