The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s


Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are both diseases that affect the brain. They can both make it difficult to perform daily tasks and affect your quality of life. Because of their similarities and shared symptoms, it can be easy to confuse the two or assume a link between the two diseases. 

However, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are separate diseases with no link to each other. There are significant differences between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So while it’s tempting to try to compare these diseases, it’s important to know that both conditions can lead to serious, life-changing outcomes and need to be treated as such. Regardless of the disease, the best results will occur if detection is early so treatment can begin.

This article will explain the differences and similarities between these two diseases to help you identify your symptoms and seek treatment, like Parkinson’s home care services.  

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that leads to dementia and will progress, or worsen, over time. While it may first appear as mild memory loss, it will soon affect the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language and can seriously hinder a patient’s ability to perform daily activities. Some other facts about Alzheimer’s include:1

  • As of 2020, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s was at least 5.8 million.
  • The number of people living with the disease doubles every five years for people over the age of 65.
  • Alzheimer’s can be present and affect the brain years before symptoms first occur.
  • Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death among Americans over the age of 65.

Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known. It is generally thought that there is no one single cause, but rather it is a combination of factors. Some of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s include:

  • Age – While a younger person can develop Alzheimer’s, it is rare. Symptoms are most likely to occur after the age of 60, with the risk becoming greater as you age.
  • Heredity – A family history of Alzheimer’s does increase your risk of developing the disease, although it is far from a certainty.
  • Environmental factors – Research is still being done into whether education, diet, and environment play a role in Alzheimer’s development. Healthy habits may help reduce your risk.

Symptoms

The main symptom of Alzheimer’s is dementia. Dementia refers to a grouping of symptoms that affect your memory, thinking, and social abilities. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in older adults, although other diseases can also cause dementia.2 Some of the early warning signs for Alzheimer’s include:

  • Memory loss
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Inability to complete daily tasks
  • Misplacing things without no ability to find them

While some of these symptoms may sound like normal parts of aging, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process and its effects are likely to be severe.

What is Parkinson’s?

Similar to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is a disease that affects the brain. What are the early warning signs of Parkinson’s? Symptoms will generally develop slowly and progress over time. Although, the course of progression will vary greatly from person to person. While the main symptoms of Parkinson’s will affect a patient’s motor function, there are also non-movement symptoms that may occur.3

Causes and Risk Factors

Parkinson’s disease occurs when neurons in the brain responsible for delivering dopamine start to break down or die. This failure to receive the correct amount of dopamine affects the way the brain operates, leading to abnormal activities. The specific cause for this happening is unknown, but there are certain risk factors:

  • Genes – Certain genetic mutations can cause Parkinson’s, although these mutations are not seen in all cases. As for heredity, while having close family members who have had the disease increases your risk, this increase is small compared to hereditary links in many other diseases.
  • Age – Parkinson’s will normally not occur in young adults. Most cases will occur in people over the age of 60.
  • Sex – While Parkinson’s can occur in anyone, it is more prevalent in men than in women.
  • Environmental factors – Prolonged exposure to certain pesticides or herbicides may increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of Parkinson’s will often be mild and may go unnoticed. As the disease progresses, symptoms are likely to become worse and affect daily activities. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Tremors, which are likely to begin while at rest in the hand or finger but may then spread to the rest of the body
  • Slowed movement
  • Stiff or rigid muscles that do not loosen up as the day progresses
  • Changes in handwriting
  • Changes in speech
  • Stooped posture
  • Blank or masked face
  • Swallowing issues
  • Emotional changes, including depression
  • Thinking or cognitive issues

How Are Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Similar?

The main similarity between Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is that both diseases can cause dementia. Dementia may present as loss of memory, loss of focus, difficulty communicating, and difficulties in comprehension.4 However, while dementia in both diseases may appear the same, the causes are different:5

  • Parkinson’s dementia – Parkinson’s dementia is the result of abnormal deposits of brain proteins called Lewy bodies. As these Lewy bodies start to clump in the brain, normal brain cells begin to die off.
  • Alzheimer’s dementia – Alzheimer’s dementia is also the result of proteins building up in the brain, but the proteins themselves are different, called amyloid and tau. They clump together to form substances called plaques or tangles, respectively. This causes brain cells to die and affected areas of the brain to shrink.

How Are Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Different?

While the nature of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are different, that may not always be noticeable at the outset. However, there are many other differences between the two conditions that can help us differentiate between them:6

  • Prevalence of dementia – While both diseases may cause dementia, Parkinson’s may not. Not all cases of Parkinson’s lead to dementia while all cases of Alzheimer’s will.
  • Nature of dementia – Alzheimer’s dementia tends to affect memory and language most prevalently. In cases of Parkinson’s dementia, problem-solving, speed of thinking, memory, and mood are all likely to be affected.7 Parkinson’s dementia can also lead to hallucinations, delusions, and paranoid thoughts whereas this is less likely to be seen in Alzheimer’s dementia.
    Other symptoms – Alzheimer’s main symptom is dementia. Parkinson’s, on the other hand, has many other symptoms especially movement symptoms such as tremors, slowed movement, and body stiffness.
    Age of onset – While both diseases are more prevalent in older adults, Parkinson’s is more likely to occur at a slightly younger age. The average age of onset for Parkinson’s is around 60 years old whereas Alzheimer’s is unlikely to occur in people under the age of 65.
    Long-term outlook – While Parkinson’s is a serious disease that can affect your daily life and make you vulnerable to other life-threatening complications, it does not seriously reduce your life expectancy, and many people with Parkinson’s go on living long lives.

    The average life expectancy for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is between 4 to 8 years after the initial diagnosis. Some people do exceed this expectation and can live upwards of 20 years after their diagnosis.

Treatment

There is no known cure for either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. However, some treatments can help mitigate the effects of the disease.

For Parkinson’s disease, treatments may include:

  • Medication – The most common medication used to treat Parkinson’s is levodopa, which helps replace dopamine levels and slow the progression of the disease. This may be used in conjunction with other medications.
  • Therapy – A mixture of physical, occupational, and speech therapy can help patients deal with the symptoms of Parkinson’s and continue with their daily lives. Coordination exercises for Parkinson’s patients improves strength, and balance.
  • Surgery – A surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation may be used in some cases where medication is ineffective. Brain surgery comes with serious risks and will not be used to treat most patients.

For patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, treatments may include:

  • Medication – Medications such as donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine may be prescribed to help regulate neurotransmitters. Another medication called aducanumab may help reduce the buildup of amyloid proteins and slow the progression of the disease.
  • Therapy – Cognitive and behavioral therapy may be effective in combating some of the effects of dementia. Exercise and dietary changes can also help some patients mitigate their symptoms.

Alliance Homecare Provides Support

Living with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s can be difficult. Caring for someone with either disease can be overwhelming. This is where we at Alliance homecare can help. Our expertly trained Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s homecare professionals are there to assist and support when daily activities become too difficult. 

It’s never easy to admit that you need help, but there’s no shame in needing support. At Alliance, we respect your journey and are here to provide you with the personalized in home nurse care that will best support your needs.

 

Sources: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm 
  2. Mayo Clinic. Dementia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352013 
  3. Mayo Clinic. Parkinson’s Disease. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055 
  4. Newsweek. Parkinson’s vs Alzheimer’s: What’s The Difference? https://www.newsweek.com/amplify/peak-valley-parkinsons-vs-alzheimers 
  5. Alzheimersdisease.net. Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Disease-Related Dementia: What’s the Difference? https://alzheimersdisease.net/answers/parkinsons-dementia-differences 
  6. Medical News Today. What is the difference between Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/parkinsons-vs-alzheimers 
  7. Parkinson’s Foundation. Parkinson’s Dementia. https://www.parkinson.org/sites/default/files/PD%20Dementia.pdf 

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