Since the majority of people worldwide believe that Parkinson’s disease is a form of Alzheimer’s, this is a good indication that we in the medical community have not done enough to disassemble this misconception. I find this troubling. It does not matter whether I am lecturing in Sioux Falls, Buenos Aries, London, Istanbul, Bejing, Tokyo or many other patient and research venues. The misconception about Parkinson’s being the same as or as bad as Alzheimer’s, exists everywhere.
A deeper look may provide some insight into the misperception. Both diseases are degenerative brain problems. Both result in the death of brain cells. Both transform general appearances, including facial expressions. Both have a visible and serious impact on the family, and society. Both result in the loss of billions in wages, and in running up health care expenditures for all tax-paying citizens. Finally, both diseases have the potential to cloud memories, and to transform personalities. How many times have I heard from a spouse the statement, “he is just not the same man I married.” Given the similarities it is understandable that people equate Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and even use common adjectives when describing both - devastating, untreatable, and indignant.
Therefore, given the background of the public’s perception, it is critical to make sure, as doctor-mentors and mentor-educators, that people understand Parkinson’s disease is not Alzheimer’s disease. Teaching families to recognize and appreciate the differences, will empower them and will kindle hopeful thoughts. Additionally Parkinson's disease should not be confused with Lou Gehrig's disease or with brain tumors.
Common motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
• Tremor (not present in 20% of cases)
• Stiffness (rigidity)
• Slowness (bradykinesia)
• Gait and balance issues
• Small handwriting (micrographia)
Common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
• Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders
• Psychosis (illusions and hallucinations)
• Cognitive dysfunction (thinking problems)
• Autonomic dysfunction (low blood pressure when standing, gastrointestinal problems, constipation, sweating, urinary issues, sexual dysfunction)
• Sleep disturbances