Caring for a Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia

While most individuals with Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed over the age of 60, a growing class of younger individuals (beginning at age 30) are finding themselves living with the disease. The causes of Parkinson’s are currently unknown, but what we do know about PD is that it is a progressive movement disorder that affects the central nervous system. As of yet, there is no cure.

The onset of PD oftentimes leads to dementia. Hallucinations and severe uncontrollable muscle difficulties make patients more susceptible to cognitive impairments. Dementia only worsens over time. With each passing year, decline gets faster. While dementia is typically associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, there are numerous types of dementia.

It is estimated that 20-30 percent of those with PD will develop dementia, typically after the age of 70. Caregivers looking after someone with PD should be aware of onset signs including:

  • Impaired and slow thinking
  • Decreased memory recall and processing
  • Distraction
  • Confusion and disorientation

If someone with Parkinson’s Disease is going to develop dementia, there is typically a lag time of at least 10 to 15 years after the onset of PD. Knowing the signs of dementia will make it easier to diagnose and treat. If your loved one is experiencing anxiety, restlessness or delusions, it is likely that their dementia is not caused by Parkinson’s Disease.

Changing Daily Living Habits

Caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s Disease is difficult enough and adjusting to dementia presents its own set of stress. Caregivers need to assess the way their loved one is cared for along with how the added stress of the disease is playing into their own life. Both the caregiver and the care recipient need to make changes to their daily routine to manage the disease.

  • Instead of asking your loved one what they would like to eat, offer them specific choices. Your loved one may be unable to name a specific food they want, and as a result may feel frustrated. By offering them specific choices they are able to pick an option without having to process too many choices.
  • Establish schedules and stick to them. It may be helpful to create a list that is located next to  your loved one’s bed that provides a detailed list of everyday activities, including waking up, putting on slippers, getting dressed etc. When their daily routine is broken down, patients with PD are better able to avoid frustration since they know what to expect and the order in which they should complete certain activities.
  • Medications may need to be locked away as your loved one’s dementia worsens. If they are unable to remember which medications to take and when, locking away their medication will make their environment a little more safe.
  • Keep your loved one’s living environment clutter-free. By ridding their living situation of extraneous objects their decision-making processes will be a lot smoother.
  • Remove any objects that may cause harm to your loved one. Keeping sharp objects like knives out of sight and out of reach will make your loved one’s living environment less dangerous. Small appliances, ladders and stepping stools should also only be used when under supervision.
  • Utilize card games, puzzles, music and journals to exercise their memory.
  • When it comes to their wardrobe, the less hassle, the better. Clothes with snaps and buttons can present a challenge, whereas slip-on clothing and velcro offer a more user-friendly alternative.
  • Provide your loved one with a medical alert system like LifeFone to ensure help is always available to them at the touch of a button. All of their medical history, preferred doctors, and loved ones to contact in case of emergency will be on hand if they are equipped with a LifeFone pendant or bracelet.

Assessing Finances

Before your loved one’s dementia worsens it is best to develop a plan for finances and assess how their assets will be used. Consider preparing a financial and living will. Consult a financial planner to determine how their assets should be used, dissolved and distributed. You should also look into long-term care options and decide how bills should be paid on an ongoing basis. Assessing their finances in advance will deter added stress in the future.

While many people who have Parkinson’s never develop dementia, it is important to make adjustments and know your medical options for the 20-30 percent of patients who do. You will find that some adjustments can be made gradually as the dementia worsens, while other changes will need to be made right away. Communication with your loved one’s doctor is key in managing the disease as effectively as possible.

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