Editor's Note: For more Foundation news and research updates, read the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of The Fox Focus, our biannual newsletter.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a "movement" disorder because its most recognizable symptoms are tremor, slowness, stiffness and, for some, walking and balance problems. But it's also very much a "non-movement" disorder. Some of the most common and bothersome symptoms are mood and sleep changes, fatigue, and thinking and memory (cognitive) problems. Not everyone experiences cognitive changes. And, like all PD symptoms, when and how they occur is unique to each person. Some people have mild changes that don't interfere with everyday life, while others have significant problems that affect their ability to shower, put on clothes or prepare meals.
Many people, Parkinson's or not, worry about potential cognitive change as they get older. But you can take steps to keep your brain as healthy as possible. Researchers have not yet proven ways to prevent or slow cognitive change, but what’s good for your body is likely good for your brain. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, drink alcohol in moderation and avoid cigarettes. Practice these activities, too:
Be Socially Active
Spending time with friends and loved ones and meeting new people not only prevents isolation that can come with Parkinson's, but also gives you a chance to work out your brain. At social gatherings, for example, you can remember new names and discuss current events. Getting involved in PD circles is another way to connect. Find an activity that fits in your schedule, interest and comfort level -- join a support group, advocate for Parkinson's policy or participate in research.
Train Your Brain
Your brain is a bit like your muscles -- it needs a regular workout to stay in shape. Play "brain games" online; do crossword or jigsaw puzzles (get a group together so you can socialize too!); learn to speak a second language or play a new instrument; or take up a new hobby.
Everyone experiences stress in different ways and to different degrees. Common stressors are work, family and balancing the two. Stress can worsen Parkinson's symptoms and cause temporary thinking and memory changes. Identify your stressors and find ways to relieve them. Meditate, practice mindfulness, go for daily walks, or spend time gardening or relaxing in nature.
Researchers believe we store memories and rejuvenate our bodies during sleep. Not getting enough rest can make it harder to manage Parkinson's and to think clearly. (Most of us have experienced the fogginess and slowness that can follow a poor night's sleep.) Make sure you sleep the recommended number of hours each night for someone your age. If you have trouble sleeping (common in PD), ask your doctor about ways to improve your rest.
Care for Medical Conditions
Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage brain blood vessels and lead to thinking and memory problems. Depression and anxiety, common Parkinson's non-movement symptoms,
can cause or worsen cognitive problems. If you have one of these conditions, or you or a loved one notice mood changes, talk to your doctor. Treatment strategies may include diet adjustment, exercise, medication and, for depression and anxiety, talk therapy.
Review Your Medications
Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as the Parkinson's drug Artane (trihexyphenidyl), pain or sleep pills, and even Benadryl, can cause confusion. At every, or every other visit, go through your medication list with your doctor. If any drug could cause cognitive difficulties ask whether you can stop it or decrease the dose. Always speak with your doctor before making changes or adding over-the-counter medications or supplements.
Stay tuned for more information and tips on Parkinson's and cognition later this year.
The medical information contained in this newsletter is for general information purposes only. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has a policy of refraining from advocating, endorsing or promoting any drug therapy, course of treatment, or specific company or institution. It is crucial that care and treatment decisions related to Parkinson's disease and any other medical condition be made in consultation with a physician or other qualified medical professional.