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About
Parkinson’s

Impact on Cognitive Skills

Parkinson’s disease can cause mild cognitive impairment. Feelings of distraction or disorganization can make it difficult to plan and accomplish tasks. Group conversations can also be difficult. It may be harder to focus in situations that require processing different dialogue simultaneously.

When facing a task or situation on their own, a person with PD may feel overwhelmed by having to make choices. They may also have difficulty remembering information or have trouble finding the right words when speaking. These changes can range from being annoying to interfering with managing household affairs.

In general, cognitive and motor decline tend to occur together as the disease progresses. To some degree, cognitive impairment affects many people with PD. The same brain changes that lead to motor symptoms can also result in slowness in memory and thinking. The cognitive changes that accompany Parkinson’s early on tend to be limited to one or two mental areas, with severity varying from person to person.

Areas most often affected include:

Attention

Difficulty processing complex instruction that require shifting attention from one task to another. Mental calculations and concentration during a task can be problematic.

Mental Processing Speed

Experiencing a delay in responding to verbal or behavioral stimuli, taking longer to complete tasks and difficulty retrieving information from memory.

Problem-solving or Executive Function

Difficulty with detailed planning and completing activities on time. This includes difficulty generating and blending different ideas or concepts.

Memory Issues

The basal ganglia and frontal lobes of the brain (both help the brain organize and recall information) may be damaged in PD. This could lead to difficulty performing common tasks like following a recipe or remembering a grocery list.

Language Abnormalities

This includes issues like finding the right word during a conversation (tip of the tongue phenomenon) as well as producing slurred or mumbled speech due to weakened muscles. There can also be difficulties with complex sentence comprehension when a question or information is embedded within a larger thought.

Visuospatial Difficulties

Difficulty with measuring distance and depth perception, which may interfere with parking a car or remember where a car is parked. 

Working with Care Providers

Consult a doctor if there are concerns about cognitive changes. Changes in medication may be needed or see a neurologist or neuropsychologist for assessment. An occupational therapist can also help you find strategies for adapting and coping with these symptoms. A speech therapist can help with language difficulties.

More questions? Learn how to Navigate Parkinsons.