Parkinson's vs Parkinsonism: What's the Difference?

By Eric Carter

Like the distinction between dementia and Alzheimer's disease, Parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease are related terms, but they refer to different concepts. Parkinsonism is an umbrella term that describes a number of conditions with movement symptoms. Parkinson's disease is one of those conditions and is the most common form of Parkinsonism.


Parkinsonism is a broad medical term that encompasses several neurodegenerative disorders that have movement-related symptoms. For example, symptoms include shaking, tremors, or stiff arms and legs. Remember that neurodegenerative disorders refer to conditions that progressively damage the brain.

Parkinsonism movement disorders include the following:

  • Parkinson's disease: It is the most common and widely known form of Parkinsonism. It accounts for about 8 in 10 cases of Parkinsonism.
  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA): A rare nervous system condition affecting involuntary functions in the body, like breathing and blood pressure. MSA is a type of atypical Parkinsonism.
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): A rare neurological condition affecting balance, walking, and eye movements. It is the most common form of atypical Parkinsonism and typically affects adults over 60.
  • Corticobasal degeneration: Another form of atypical Parkinsonism, this condition affects movement, balance, and coordination. It also damages the frontotemporal area of the brain, causing memory loss and problems with logical reasoning.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: This type of dementia is also classified as a form of atypical Parkinsonism. It is caused by deposits in the brain, called Lewy bodies which lead to problems with thinking, movement, and behavior.
  • Drug-induced Parkinsonism: A form of Parkinsonism that develops due to medications that affect dopamine levels in the brain. Drugs causing this disorder include antipsychotics and stimulants. If an individual stops taking the drugs causing Parkinsonism, their symptoms may subside over time.
  • Vascular Parkinsonism: May occur after a stroke or other cerebrovascular disease. The most common symptom is an unsteady gait. Individuals typically do not have tremors as side effects.

Overall, Parkinsonism is not truly a diagnosis, but rather a general term to describe symptoms. However, when an individual is in the early stages of a neurodegenerative disorder, they may be diagnosed with Parkinsonism. This is because there isn't enough information or clear symptoms to make a clear diagnosis.

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Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a specific neurodegenerative disorder. It primarily affects movement and is characterized by tremors, stiffness, slow movement, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

This disorder is the result of the gradual loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. It progresses very slowly, and individuals may go for years before ever noticing symptoms or getting a diagnosis.

The most common symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:

  • Tremors
  • Stiffness
  • Slow movements
  • Decreased balance
  • Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Muscle cramping

RELATED CONTENT: Understanding & Managing Parkinson's Disease


There is not a definitive test to determine if someone has Parkinson's or another form of Parkinsonism. A doctor will review medical history and ask about symptoms. They may also request a number of different movement tests. Doctors may also monitor the progression of the disease and the patient's response to medications. But it may take some time for professionals to provide a clear diagnosis.

Treatment & Outlook

There is no cure for Parkinson's disease or related forms of Parkinsonism. However, treatments can help improve the quality of life for individuals diagnosed with this condition. Treatment may include medications, physical therapy, or speech therapy.

Parkinson's disease generally progresses slowly. Generally, the life expectancy for someone with Parkinson's disease is the same as someone without it. However, the outlook for other forms of Parkinsonism depends on the specific condition. Other forms of Parkinsonism tend to progress more quickly than Parkinson's disease.

If your or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease or a related form of Parkinsonism, our professional caregivers can help. We can assist with daily routines, including toileting, dressing, meal preparation, and cleaning. Our caregivers can help seniors maintain independence and dignity at home. Reach out to your local Caring office to learn more.

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