Many with Parkinson’s experience depression, and it’s not just the kind of reactive depression felt by those learning of their diagnosis. In PD, this symptom can be caused by the biological processes associated with what is happening during the disease course.
Physicians have long prescribed antidepressants for Parkinson’s patients. But since the nature of depression in Parkinson's disease (PD) has its own unique causes, questions continually arise as to whether certain antidepressants are actually right for people with the disease. To date, doctors have had to largely base their understandings of what works and what doesn’t work on observational evidence from what they’ve seen in their own practice, an inexact science at best.
But today, more precise results from a clinical study published in the journal Neurology confirm that two common drugs, paroxetine (brand name Paxil) and venlafaxine extended release (brand name Effexor XR), may ease depression in people with Parkinson's without aggravating the motor symptoms of the disease.
“This study says to the community that ‘we already have medications available to treat depression in people with PD, and we can use them,” says study author Irene Hegeman Richard, MD, of the University of Rochester. “We should be more confident prescribing these drugs moving forward.”
MJFF spoke with Richard, who is also a Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member, and staffer Maurizio Facheris, MD, MSc, to better understand what the study results might mean for those living with PD.
Below, an excerpt from our conversation on how important it is for those who feel depressed to seek treatment.
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.
Read the entire News in Context to learn more about the study results.