March 26, 2010
Parkinson’s Disease Can Affect More Than Movement
Augusta, GA—For most people, trembling hands and a shuffling gait represent the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Memory problems, slowed thinking and dementia, not so much.
But in actuality, an estimated 40 percent of Parkinson’s patients can have difficulties with cognitive function, as well as later dementia, said Dr. Jeremy Hertza, Director of Behavioral Medicine and a neuropsychologist at Walton Rehabilitation Health System. “People see the difficulties with movement but forget that Parkinson’s is actually a disease of the brain,” said Dr. Hertza. “As such, PD can affect not only motor function, but also cognitive ability.”
Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells in the midbrain that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter important in motor control, die or become impaired. It is a chronic, progressive disease that is typically treated through medication or surgery. Researchers are not entirely sure why certain Parkinson’s patients experience deficits in attention, planning or memory, and later, dementia, but patients can benefit from early interventions.
As a neuropsychologist, Dr. Hertza maps brain function in patients who have been diagnosed with a Parkinson’s type disease to help determine the specific type of disease they have, what stage they are in, what cognitive deficits are present and what they can expect for the future. The term parkinsonism can refer to an entire class of Parkinson’s type diseases whose effects on motor function, cognitive ability, language function and more can range widely from the more common tremor to disruption of the autonomic nervous system. Diseases similar to Parkinson’s disease, but with different progression and involvement of brain structures, are called Parkinson’s plus disorders and include corticobasal degeneration, progressive supranuclear palsy, and multiple system atrophy. “It is important for patients and families to know what type of Parkinson’s their family member has so they can better understand and discuss the long-term effects, as well as how to best cope,” said Dr. Hertza.
Following neuropsychological assessment, a neuropsychologist can help with diagnosis and then advise patients on possible interventions including medication, therapies and strategies to help them best work around any deficits in attention, planning, memory, processing speed or abnormal motor function. Interventions are designed specifically to each patient’s deficits to help them improve in these areas. For example, if tests results show impairments in processing speed, the patient can be taught how to best access previously stored information.
Strategies like these can help patients feel more in control of the disease. It can also help stave off the depression that is another often unrecognized hallmark of those with Parkinson’s disease, but which can affect about 30 to 40 percent of Parkinson’s sufferers.
“Along with medication or surgery, adjustment to a chronic disease is an important part of treatment,” said Dr. Hertza. “By working with patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s early, we can help manage cognition, depression and anxiety, and provide tools to enable patients to have a better quality of life.”
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
<< Go Back