Depression and anxiety are symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Mood changes can impact quality of life and how treatments work. Effective therapies for the mood aspects of Parkinson's are among patients' most important unmet needs and an MJFF research priority.
Mood Changes in Parkinson's
When faced with a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease (PD), it is understandable to feel depressed or anxious. But mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are clinical symptoms of Parkinson's, just as are slowness of movement and tremor. In fact, up to half of all people with Parkinson's may suffer from depression and/or anxiety at some point during the course of their disease. Like all symptoms of PD, mood changes are different for different people. Some people with depression feel sad and lose interest in things they used to enjoy, while others feel irritable and have difficulty sleeping. People with anxiety often feel overly worried or concerned, or say they are "on edge."
The good news: Over the past decade, researchers have placed increasing focus on these aspects of PD, and today we have a better understanding of how to treat mood disorders in Parkinson's.
Help for Depression and Anxiety
Depression is a serious matter for anyone. For people with Parkinson's, it can affect critical elements of disease management such as staying socially connected, exercising and proactively seeking needed care.
It is not always easy to recognize depression in oneself. Be on the lookout for a lack of interest in activities and situations that once brought you joy. Pay attention to observations made by family and friends, and talk to your doctor if you're not feeling like yourself. Sometimes, your physicians may not even ask you about these conditions if you don't mention changes in mood or outlook.
Depression and anxiety can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes (such as regular exercise and social activities) and therapy or counseling with a qualified practitioner. Support groups also may be a source of help.
What the Research Says
Researchers believe that depression and anxiety in Parkinson's are due to changes in brain chemistry that are caused by the disease itself. (In fact, in some people, depression starts years before Parkinson's is diagnosed.) The same pathways that create dopamine in the brain — which are impacted in PD — also create the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Scientists think that the effect of Parkinson's on serotonin, as well as other brain chemicals that support mood, is responsible for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) actively pursues research that can shed light on the connection between mood changes and Parkinson's — and lead to treatment breakthroughs for people living with the disease. The MJFF-funded Study of Antidepressants in Parkinson's Disease found that certain antidepressants eased depression in people with Parkinson's without worsening movement symptoms. Still, more work remains to find more and better treatments for depression and anxiety. Researchers are looking at several different therapies: medications such as Buspar (buspirone) for anxiety, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and non-invasive brain stimulation for both depression and anxiety. Register for recruiting studies in your area through MJFF's online tool Fox Trial Finder.