Parkinson’s Disease patients often experience cognitive difficulties that are separate from motor symptoms. These can emerge over time in up to 80% of individuals with PD. In some cases, there is severe enough cognitive disability to warrant a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD). Cognitive impairment and dementia add significantly to patient’s disability and can lead to decreased quality of life and independence. The underlying cause of dementia in PDD is heterogeneous, although there is a strong correlation of spread of Lewy body pathology from the brainstem into the cortex. Some patients also have significant plaque and tangle pathology at autopsy for a secondary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease as a cause for their cognitive impairment.
Patients with PDD may experience difficulties with:
Treatment includes medications used in Alzheimer’s disease to boost the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; however, there are currently no available treatments that prevent the neurodegenerative process (disease-modifying therapies).
Current research at the Penn FTD Center and our colleagues at the Penn Udall Center for Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research are to identify patients at increased risk of PDD and understand the underlying cause to help develop and test disease-modifying therapies.