Parkinson’s is a progressive disease that can cause difficulties with movement. It can progress into cognitive changes that affect memory.

The brain changes that cause Parkinson’s disease can also affect cognitive function over time. This includes memory and the ability to process information.

This article looks at the link between Parkinson’s and memory, symptoms, treatment, outlook, and more.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Parkinson’s disease, visit our dedicated hub.

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Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that occurs due to a loss of nerve cells in the brain.

These nerve cells are responsible for producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The loss of these cells lowers the amount of dopamine in the brain, resulting in symptoms involving movement issues. These symptoms include difficulty walking, rigid muscles, and a loss of coordination.

Over time, Parkinson’s disease can also affect cognition, or the ability to think. This may lead to memory problems and dementia.

The brain changes and altered levels of dopamine may lead to cognitive changes such as memory loss. Parkinson’s also affects two neurotransmitters called acetylcholine and norepinephrine, which may further contribute to memory loss and changes in mental processes.

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Learn more about Parkinson’s disease.

The first symptoms that appear with Parkinson’s are usually physical, such as changes in movement.

As the disease progresses, people may experience symptoms affecting cognitive function and memory, such as memory loss and dementia.

Dementia relating to Parkinson’s may cause:

  • difficulty communicating with others
  • difficulty problem solving and understanding abstract concepts
  • forgetfulness and memory loss
  • trouble concentrating

Cognitive changes

Cognitive changes in Parkinson’s can vary from mild to more significant. These changes include:

  • difficulty paying attention or concentrating, such as reading a book or taking part in group conversations
  • trouble with problem solving or multitasking, such as managing multiple ongoing projects, or working out everyday solutions such as taking a new route when driving
  • difficulty in processing information in three dimensions, such as creating a mental map of the neighborhood or judging distances when driving

Cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) defines relatively mild changes to memory and thinking. MCI is more significant than the usual changes that occur with aging but not severe enough to interfere with everyday life.

Symptoms of MCI may include:

  • feeling distracted or disorganized
  • losing train of thought
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble managing more than one task at a time

Dementia

Dementia occurs when cognitive changes become substantial enough to interfere with a person’s day-to-day life and activities. If people with Parkinson’s develop dementia, it is usually after many years or decades of having the disease.

People may experience symptoms similar to those of MCI but to a greater extent. Individuals with dementia may:

  • have difficulties planning out or completing activities
  • take longer to process information
  • have a slower response time to questions
  • have difficulty finding words
  • become lost or disorientated in familiar places
  • become easily confused

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that affects older adults. It is a neurodegenerative disease that affects cognition, memory, and personality.

Although Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s share some similarities in symptoms, they are two different conditions, and there is no link between them.

The following table looks at the similarities and differences between the two conditions.

Parkinson’s DiseaseAlzheimer’s Disease
Symptomsslowed movements
• rigid muscles
tremor
• loss of expression on the face
• shuffling gait
depression and anxiety
• sleep problems
• difficulty retrieving old memories
• depression and anxiety
• sleep problems
• difficulty forming new memories
• difficulty finding words
• impaired judgment or reasoning
• taking longer to complete everyday tasks
• confusion
Age of onsetusually begins between the ages of 50 and 65 yearssymptoms usually first appear after the age of 65 years
Causesa combination of genetic and environmental factorsa combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors
Risk factors• being male
• older age
• exposure to certain metals, solvents, herbicides, or pesticides
traumatic brain injury
• smoking
• lack of physical activity
• traumatic brain injury
• unhealthy diet
• certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and Down syndrome
Treatment• exercise and stay physically active
• medications
physical, occupational, and speech therapy
• surgery
• medications to target the disease and manage symptoms
• behavioral strategies to manage symptoms
Life expectancylife expectancy is about the same as the general population, but there is an increased risk of injury from falls and pneumoniaan average of 4–8 years after diagnosis, but it can be as long as 20 years
Outlooka progressive disease where symptoms may worsen over timea progressive disease where symptoms worsen over time

Experts still do not know for certain why memory loss and dementia occur with Parkinson’s.

The condition occurs due to a degeneration of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. These changes in the brain lead to the motor and nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Changes in the brain that occur with Parkinson’s that are responsible for movement changes may also cause cognitive changes. Dementia also occurs due to the degeneration of nerve cells, which alters brain chemicals.

Treatment options to help manage the cognitive changes that may occur with Parkinson’s may include:

  • cognitive remediation therapy, which teaches people techniques to manage changes in thinking and memory
  • behavioral management, such as creating a simple day-to-day routine to follow and making changes around the home to reduce confusion
  • medications, such as rivastigmine, donepezil, and galantamine

Any co-existing health problems, such as urinary tract infections, depression, or sleep problems, may worsen cognitive function. A doctor will check for any additional health conditions and prescribe any necessary treatment.

The outlook of memory loss for people with Parkinson’s may vary for each individual.

Those with MCI may have symptoms that stay the same, worsen, or improve over time.

In some cases, MCI may slowly progress to dementia.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about Parkinson’s and memory loss.

At what stage of Parkinson’s does dementia start?

If people with Parkinson’s develop dementia, it is usually in the later stages of the disease.

Dementia may not affect everyone who has Parkinson’s. An estimated 40% of those with Parkinson’s also have dementia.

A longer duration of Parkinson’s, significant movement difficulties, MCI, hallucinations, and delusions may increase the risk of developing dementia with Parkinson’s.

Does Parkinson’s affect long-term memory?

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson’s disease and dementia can cause both short- and long-term memory loss.

People with Parkinson’s may have damage to certain areas of the brain, the basal ganglia and frontal lobes, which help to recall and organize information.

Does personality change with Parkinson’s?

According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, personality changes can occur with Parkinson’s.

Cognitive changes may affect personality, altering aspects such as:

  • motivation
  • how focused or attentive a person is
  • organization
  • sociability and how people interact with others
  • mood and outlook

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, which initially causes issues with movement but can develop over time to cause cognitive difficulties.

People may experience mild cognitive impairment, such as memory loss, confusion, or difficulty communicating with others.

In some cases, cognitive changes may lead to dementia, which occurs when cognitive changes significantly interfere with everyday life.

If people with Parkinson’s notice any changes in their thinking patterns or memory, they can talk with a doctor. Treatments may include cognitive and behavioral therapies and medications.