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Depression Takes ‘Big Toll’ on Many People with Parkinson’s

Depression Takes ‘Big Toll’ on Many People with Parkinson’s

Many with Parkinson's disease (PD) experience depression, and it's not just the kind of reactive depression felt by those learning that they have a neurological condition. In PD, this symptom can be caused by changes in brain chemistry associated with the disease.

An article in yesterday’s USA Today underscores the magnitude of this symptom, citing a study that found that depression “takes a bigger toll on Parkinson’s patients than the physical problems” linked to the disease. 

The study, sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation, surveyed 5,557 Parkinson’s patients at 20 research centers worldwide and found that 61 percent reported experiencing depression.  Twenty-one percent said they had minor symptoms associated with depression, 22 percent experienced mild depression, and 18 percent reported severe, major depressive disorders.

While it’s debatable that depression “takes a bigger toll” than the motor symptoms associated with PD, it can certainly provide a major challenge for people living with Parkinson’s. Scientists and clinicians continue to be at work to better understand the prevalence of depression, and its causes, in the disease. 

Last spring, we spoke with Irene Hegeman Richard, MD, of the University of Rochester, and Michael J. Fox Foundation staffer Maurizio Facheris, MD, MSc, about a particular clinical study, called SAD-PD, which found that two common antidepressants ease depression in people with PD, without aggravating the motor symptoms of the disease.  (An important caveat to this study: SAD-PD merely found that two drugs seemed to be effective in PD; it wasn’t designed to make any comparisons between antidepressants). 

During that conversation, Drs. Richard and Facheris spoke candidly about depression related to Parkinson’s, and how important it is for those who are depressed to seek out medical care:

Dr. Richard: Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to admit that they are depressed since there can be a stigma attached to depression. Some people even view it as a sign of weakness and something that they can ‘get over.’ It is important to realize that depression is a part of the disease and isn’t something that one can ‘will away.’ I firmly believe that seeking out treatment is a sign of strength: People who acknowledge that they are suffering from depression and proactively look to do something about this should be commended. They will likely experience significant relief when their depression is treated. 

Dr. Facheris: It’s important to seek out help to reverse the often vicious circle of depression. When you feel blue, you are less likely to go out, and this can be seriously detrimental to people with PD if it prevents them from staying socially connected or from exercising to help improve their motor symptoms. 

If you are experiencing depression, speak openly about it with your neurologist. Depression can manifest itself in a variety of ways that may not always be obvious to you, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, irritability, and/or anxiety. Caregivers are also good at helping to identify changes that might be taking place that you may not notice in yourself; if your spouse or other close connection mentions changes in your mood or personality, take it seriously. Depression can be deadly when it goes untreated.


NOTE: The medical information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has a policy of refraining from advocating, endorsing or promoting any drug therapy, course of treatment, or specific company or institution. It is crucial that care and treatment decisions related to Parkinson’s disease and any other medical condition be made in consultation with a physician or other qualified medical professional.

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