Cognitive Changes – How Neurological Deficits Affect Us

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How do you make sense of something that is out of your control? Each person is born with a unique personality and this personality shapes them into the person they want to be. For a person with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the world seems to be a little different.

Parkinson’s disease is a type of neurodegenerative disorder, which affects predominately “dopaminergic” (dopamine-producing) neurons called “substantia nigra” that are found in the brain, in a specific area. In layman’s terms, this nervous system disorder affects a person’s movement and speech. Overtime, the symptoms develop from the ever-so-slight jerk movements and tremors to increased changes in cognitive ability.

What is Cognition?

Often people assume that when we talk about cognition, we are referring to “memory” but in Parkinson’s disease, cognition has many more meanings. It’s the person’s mental abilities, which they use to apply knowledge and process information that is deeply affected. These mental abilities help us to perform normal functions such as solving problems, paying attention and how certain tasks are done. In the study of cognitive processes, following are the neurological deficits a person experiences when they have Parkinson’s disease:

1.     Working and Attention Memory

Your ability to focus on one task and an aspect of the environment, while ignoring other stimuli is how you get things done. However, a person with PD finds difficulty in this such as reading a book or holding a conversation. Moving onto working memory, it’s the person’s ability to store and manipulate information temporarily. In PD, this cognitive process involves the parietal and frontal lobes. When these are affected, a person can no longer perform normal tasks simultaneously such as maintaining balance while walking.

2.     Memory

As mentioned earlier, PD is not just about memory loss. It affects different types of memories such as:

  • Long-term (days-years)
  • Short-term (minutes days)
  • Immediate (seconds-minutes)
  • Declarative (memory loss related to events, concepts, and facts)
  • Procedural (relating to how certain tasks are done such as tying shoe laces)

When the temporal lobe and the frontal areas are affected, a person experiences these types of memory loss. However, unlike Alzheimer’s, where people experience permanent memory loss, in PD, memories can be recalled when choices and cues are given.

3.     Executive Functions

Our executive functions involve organizing, planning, initiating, and being flexible in goal directed behaviour. Imagine a CEO taking charge of his company. He has to multitask to make sure that all departments are working smoothly. One of the most common neurological deficits, here the prefrontal cortex is affected, which prevents the person from performing these basic tasks.

4.     Visuospatial Function

A person’s ability to give directions by visualising the route in their minds is known as visuospatial function. It helps us create mental imagery that gives us the environment’s spatial map. Since a person with PD finds difficulty in day-to-day tasks, recalling information without any cues becomes difficult.

5.     Language

Relating to language, people with PD struggle to find the right words when communicating. Disabilities in this area include verbal concepts, generating words, naming objects and comprehension.

People with Parkinson’s disease usually talk less because for them, everything is like a puzzle. They think twice before they speak to formulate the right words. Since, their memory is not that sharp as compared to a normal person, they struggle in life from minute to minute.

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