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Tuesday, 20 March 2018 00:00

Everything you need to know about Parkinson’s disease psychosis

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological condition affecting millions of people across South Africa. Typically characterised by shaky hands, an unsteady walk and rigid limbs, PD is a progressive disease which can worsen over time. Aside from the problems associated with movement, PD can produce lesser-known neurological issues, such as Parkinson’s disease psychosis.

It has been recorded that up to 50% of PD sufferers will experience Parkinson’s disease psychosis in their lifetime, which usually takes the form of a psychotic hallucination.

What are the causes of PD psychosis?

While the precise causes of PD psychosis is yet to be pin-pointed, there are certain factors which can greatly contribute to its onset in someone already suffering from PD:

  • Age
  • Length of time living with Parkinson’s disease
  • The severity of their Parkinson’s
  • The type and amount of medications taken on a daily basis

Medications which increase dopamine levels in the brain have been strongly linked to the onset of PD psychosis. Many prescription medications used to treat symptoms of PD tend to increase levels of dopamine in the brain, which, in turn, can lead to the development of psychotic hallucinations and behaviours.

Symptoms of PD psychosis

  • Visual hallucinations – seeing people and objects which are not really there
  • Auditory hallucinations – hearing noises which do not exist
  • Delusions – far-fetched beliefs which are untrue e.g. paranoid behaviour, being overly suspicious, agitated or fearful.

The later stages of PD may also cause a patient to lose their connection with daily reality, causing them to become all the more confused and anxious. The onset of PD psychosis usually only develops several years after the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

PD psychosis triggers

There are a range of psychosis triggers which go hand-in-hand with Parkinson’s disease, but just some of the potential triggers for a psychotic episode may include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Metabolic or electrolyte imbalances i.e. poor diet
  • Specific medications
  • Illness and infection
  • Mental status of the patient / lack of mental or stimulation

Just some of the ways to avoid the onset of PD psychosis include eating a regulated, healthy diet and daily exercise. Where possible, interactivity and outings with friends and fellow patients, creative brain stimulation and a good sleeping pattern all help to offset some of these triggers.

If you begin to notice any new, unusual behaviour or agitation from your loved one suffering from PD, it’s important to remain open and honest about how they’re feeling. There is no harm in asking them if they are experiencing any symptoms of PD psychosis, as many patients may be too embarrassed or reluctant to openly speak up about them.

While PD psychosis is not incredibly common, it is a reality of developing Parkinson’s disease and is a symptom of the disease worth being aware of.

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