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Cognitive Changes

Learn about cognitive changes in Parkinson's

  • The term “cognitive” refers to thinking or the processes involved in knowing or putting together information.
  • It includes a variety of mental skills such as attention, problem-solving, memory, language, visual-perceptual skills, and other aspects of reasoning and general intellect.
  • Many persons with PD complain of slowness in thinking and difficulty with word-finding.
  • Research has found that mild symptoms of cognitive impairment occur in PD patients.
  • Some patients report mild improvements in motivation and concentration after taking anti-Parkinsonian medications.
  • These medications, however, do not typically improve other aspects of memory and thinking abilities.  

While approximately 50% of patients with PD will experience some form of cognitive impairment, not all individuals will be diagnosed with full-blown dementia. Dementia is diagnosed when cognitive impairments occur in more than one area of cognition and are severe enough to impair social or work functioning.

In general, mental and motor decline tend to occur in parallel as the disease progresses. Significant cognitive impairment in PD is often associated with:

  • Caregiver distress
  • Worse day-to-day function
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Poorer treatment outcomes
  • Greater medical costs due to nursing home placements
  • Increased mortality

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Page reviewed by Dr. Joash Lazarus, NPF Movement Disorders Fellow, Department of Neurology at Emory University School of Medicine.