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Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Compared

All Heart Home Care San Diego Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Compared

Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are both very common degenerative diseases that affect millions of people in the United States.  It is estimated that Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million people while Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 1 million people.

They are both late-onset diseases, which means they primarily affect elderly people.  Because the life expectancy of Americans has increased, more people are living to an age where they may be affected by these illnesses.

Both diseases can affect neurological and cognitive function, which leads people to believe they are somehow related conditions.  To help you better understand these conditions, this article discusses Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s compared and the causes, symptoms and treatments for both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.  Then, we will look at the similarities between the two conditions.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative condition that affects a person’s brain.  It causes an estimated 60% of all dementia cases.  In the early stages, Alzheimer’s manifests as short-term memory loss before progressing to more serious symptoms including disorientation, problems communicating, mood swings, and behavioral problems.

Alzheimer’s sufferers also struggle to look after themselves and have mood swings.  People with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease will withdraw from the world and are usually incapable of coherent communication.  Eventually, bodily functions are lost and the person passes away.  The life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer’s disease is usually between 3 to 9 years.

It is estimated that more than 1 in 3 seniors have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia when they pass away.  Alzheimer’s disease in the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

What causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Scientists do not completely understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, although they suspect up to 70% of cases may be caused by genetic factors.  People who have suffered a head injury, who have hypertension or have depression have an increased risk of getting the disease.

People with the disease will develop senile plaques and Neurofibrillary Tangles (NFTs) in the brain — substances that interfere with brain function.

Treating Alzheimer’s

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, however, some treatments have been shown to temporarily improve symptoms.  There is a range of medications and behavioral interventions that have been shown to slow the disease’s progression.

Caregiving is an essential component of treating Alzheimer’s disease.  Because the patient can forget where they are or what they are doing, additional safety precautions must be taken.  Assistance with daily tasks can help a person with Alzheimer’s disease make the most of their remaining time and can help to delay the disease’s progression.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system.  It is primarily a movement disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to control their body.

The most common symptoms are shaking, difficulty walking, rigidity and a specific gait.  Dementia often occurs in people who have later-stage Parkinson’s disease.  People with Parkinson’s disease can also suffer from emotional problems and have trouble sleeping.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

There are two varieties of Parkinson’s disease — primary Parkinson’s and secondary Parkinson’s.  Scientists do not know what causes the primary variant, but they have identified exposure to certain toxins as being responsible for secondary Parkinson’s.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by the deterioration of neurons in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra.  When these nerve cells die, the brain cannot produce enough dopamine.  Dopamine is an important signaling chemical which helps the brain coordinate movement.  The loss of this chemical makes it difficult for people to control their body movements.

Scientists do not understand why the neurons in the substantia nigra deteriorate.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.  However, a combination of drugs can provide some relief from the symptoms.  Surgery can also be used to stimulate certain parts of the brain and help increase the production of dopamine.

Home care is important for people with Parkinson’s disease.  There is some evidence that a regular exercise program may help with speech and mobility issues.  As the disease progresses, it also becomes very important to have help available for simple tasks like cooking or cleaning the home.

What These Conditions Have in Common

They are more common in older people

Both diseases become more common in individuals who are 50 years or older.  To illustrate this point — of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, 5.2 million are aged 65 or older.  Only 4% of people with Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed before the age of 50.

Both conditions worsen over time

Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are both degenerative conditions that worsen as a person gets older.

They are both neurodegenerative diseases

Both diseases are neurodegenerative, which means they negatively impact brain function.  Over time, both conditions will cause brain cells to die and cause a loss in cognitive function.

They can both cause dementia

While both diseases can cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease contributes to most of the cases in the United States.  Parkinson’s disease has a much more dramatic impact on motor function than Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is linked to Parkinson’s disease

A study from 2003 found that the cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s disease makes a person eight times more likely to also develop Parkinson’s disease.  Scientists are still trying to understand precisely how these two diseases are linked.

Both Conditions are Devastating For a Person’s Quality of Life

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease is devastating news.  However, with some help, an elderly person with one of these diseases can really make the most of the time they have left.

It is important that these diseases be diagnosed and treated as early as possible so the person’s quality of life is maintained for as long as possible.

Changes should also be made to the living arrangements of a person with one of these conditions.  It is important they are in a safe and comfortable environment where they are cared for.  In many cases, it is better for patients with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s to stay in the family home — an environment that they are comfortable and familiar with.

Non-medical home care can help an elderly person stay in their home for a longer period.  Trained healthcare workers and home care practitioners can make sure a person afflicted with one of these illnesses is well fed, comfortable and able to cope with domestic duties around the home.  Staying in the family home for as long as possible helps an elderly person maintain a sense of independence and dignity.

We hope you found this article on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s compared informative.  If you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or you want to discuss our home care services, contact All Heart Home Care on 619-736-4677.  We offer in-home consultations and would love to discuss the many home care services available.

Eric Barth
Eric Barth
CEO and blogger for All Heart Home Care. I devote myself to helping seniors age in their own home while maintaining a feeling of independence, preserve their dignity, and enhance the quality of their life. I write these blogs to help educate the public on issues surrounding what seniors find to be the most important. My blogs are from my own personal research. I hope you enjoy my blog posts.

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