3.9 Mild memory problems

Some people with Parkinson’s experience mild memory problems (or mild cognitive impairment). This is when a person has problems recalling things, finding words and making decisions. People often experience this in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s. They may have problems with planning, multitasking, moving quickly from one activity to another or doing tasks in a particular order.

Problems with attention and concentration can make daily tasks, such as reading a newspaper article from start to finish, more difficult. People may also experience slow thought processes, so it could take longer to make decisions or respond in conversations.

If a person has had surgery for Parkinson’s, such as deep brain stimulation, they might have some specific problems with talking, concentration and complex thinking. However, some people who’ve had surgery have found that it improves their memory.

While many people can experience mild memory problems, this does not necessarily indicate a more serious problem such as dementia. It is vital that a person’s condition is reviewed by a specialist because sometimes it may seem like they are experiencing dementia symptoms, but they may actually have mild memory problems or other communication difficulties.

What are the causes?

We still don’t fully understand why thinking and memory problems occur. However, they could be caused by problems in the brain pathways that pass messages from one part of the brain to another.

Reasons other than Parkinson’s include anxiety and depression, sleep problems and an unhealthy diet.

Treating mild cognitive impairment

Some Parkinson’s medications, particularly levodopa, can improve thinking and concentration. But other Parkinson’s drugs, such as anticholinergic drugs and dopamine agonists, may have a negative impact on thinking, particularly in older people with more serious thinking and memory problems. We will look at these drugs in more detail in Section 4.

A person with Parkinson’s should see their GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse about any memory or thinking problems as there may be medication that can help. They may also be referred to a psychologist.

Actions to be taken

If you think that thinking and memory problems are starting to affect a person’s daily life, there are techniques you can use to help them, including the following:

  • Visual prompts: Calendars, clocks, noticeboards and notices around the home can help jog people’s memory and provide helpful reminders.
  • Routine and organisation: Try to avoid change in their daily routine.
  • Memory aids: A lot of people find medication dispensers useful to help remind them when to take their medication.
  • Verbal strategies: Keep explanations clear and simple. You could also write messages down as well as talking to a person face to face.
  • Maintain independence: Encourage people to stay as active as possible.

Find out more in the Parkinson’s UK information sheet on mild memory problems [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

3.10 Parkinson’s dementia