What're the complications of Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease is not fatal, but it reduces longevity. The disease progresses more quickly in older than younger patients, and may lead to severe incapacity within 10 to 20 years. Older patients also experience freezing and greater declines in mental function and daily functioning.
The negative effect of overall motor and muscle impairment on daily life can be considerable in Parkinson's patients. Some motor complications can be life threatening. Many people with Parkinson's disease develop constipation because the digestive tract works more slowly. Constipation may also be a side effect of medications used to treat the disease.
The presence of dysphagia is associated with shorter survival time. Motor impairment of the muscles in the throat not only impairs swallowing but it also poses a risk for aspiration pneumonia. In the later stages of the disease, the muscles you use to swallow may be affected, making eating difficult.
Approximately half the people with Parkinson's disease develop depression. In some cases, depression may occur months or even years before Parkinson's disease is diagnosed. Depression is extremely common, affecting up to 40% of Parkinson's patients. PD poses a triple threat on the emotional health of its victims. The disease process itself causes changes in chemicals in the brain that effect mood and well being. The complications of its symptoms have a profound impact on daily life that can be emotionally devastating without help and support.
Defects in thinking, memory, language, and problem solving skills may occur early on in untreated patients or late in the course of the disease. Medications may play a role in thinking problems. In one study, for example, patients with PD were slower in detecting associations, although (unlike in Alzheimer's disease) once they discovered them they were able to apply this knowledge to other concepts. After they were taken off medication, however, they had no problems with the tasks.
Dementia is about six times more common in the elderly Parkinson patient than in the average older adult. It is most likely to occur in older patients who have had major depression. Unlike in Alzheimer's, language is not usually affected in Parkinson's related dementia. Visual hallucinations occur in about a third of people on long-term medications that increase dopamine, possibly because of some genetic susceptibility.
Sleep disorders are common in PD, both from the disease itself and from its treatments. In general, patients have a higher risk for disturbed sleep and daytime sleepiness, including suddenly falling asleep. Many PD patients also suffer from nighttime let cramps and restless legs syndrome. And, some of the medications cause vivid dreams as well as waking hallucinations. People with Parkinson's disease often have trouble falling asleep and may wake up frequently throughout the night. They may also experience restless sleep and even act out their dreams (rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder). Some of the problems with sleep may be related to depression.
Some people with Parkinson's disease may notice a decrease in sexual desire (libido). This may stem from a combination of psychological and physical factors, or it may be the result of physical factors alone.