6 Key Differences Between Alzheimer's And Parkinson's

Date December 14, 2017

If you don’t know someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, it may be difficult for you to tell these two diseases apart. But it’s important to know the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease because they are two separate conditions that need different treatment.

Well, both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are progressive neurological disorders (“progressive” meaning they get worse over the time). These two diseases are among the leading causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is responsible for the majority of dementia cases.

They share some common symptoms, some of which may be more pronounced in Alzheimer’s than in Parkinson’s and vice versa.

Here’s a list of the main differences between the two diseases:

1. The average age of onset

Both diseases affect mainly older populations, but they can sometimes start in the middle age. The average age of onset of Parkinson’s disease is 60, but it often starts earlier. Alzheimer’s disease starts to show symptoms at age 65 on average.

2. The number of people affected

Alzheimer’s is much more common than Parkinson’s. It’s estimated that 5 to 6 million people around the world (including about 1 million Americans) have Parkinson’s. The number is much higher for Alzheimer’s: the disease affects about 5.5 million Americans and 43 million people globally.

3. Physical changes in the brain

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s start in two different areas of the brain. Parkinson’s disease starts in the substantia nigra which is responsible for the production of dopamine. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter that regulates movement, pleasure, mood and sleep, among other things.

Alzheimer’s starts in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for memory, emotions, and spatial coordination. In both diseases, abnormal accumulations of protein in and around nerve cells are present.

4. Mood

Mood changes such as depression and anxiety are common in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but it appears that they can be more easily modified with treatment in patients with Parkinson’s. Both people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s often have sleep problems.

5. Cognitive issues

Alzheimer’s disease always manifests in gradual cognitive decline. Problems with memory are usually one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Cognitive problems are a common symptom in people with Parkinson’s, but they aren’t always present.

6. Movement

Problems with movement are a distinctive symptom of Parkinson’s and include the following: Tremors that start in the hand or arm and get worse at rest, slowed down movements, and muscle stiffness. In Alzheimer’s, difficulty moving usually develops in later stages of the disease.

Both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are still incurable. All we can do is hope that ongoing research into these neurodegenerative diseases will yield results that may lead to the development of better treatments.

Source: BrightFocus Foundation, NetDoctor, Journey with Parkinson's Blog, DifferenceBetween

READ ALSO: Alzheimer’s Disease And Dementia: What Is The Difference

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