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Emotions and Parkinson's Disease


Iím feeling anxious and depressed since my diagnosis. Is this a normal reaction?

Youíve just been told that you have a progressive, incurable neurological condition. It is only normal to experience some degree of worry and despair in this situation. But depression and anxiety can also be clinical conditions that accompany the other symptoms of the disease itself ó like rigidity or tremor. The good news is that, as with Parkinsonís disease's other symptoms, clinical depression and anxiety can be treated if recognized.


Anxiety and Depression

Clinical depression and anxiety are real. They are medical issues, not character flaws. One of the original authors of this guide suffered relentless depression for months, jeopardizing her job, her reputation and her relationships with family and friends because no one told her that Parkinsonís disease could have a major impact on one's mental health. Another author finally won a lengthy, sometimes suicidal, fight against depression once she was diagnosed with Parkinsonís disease and received proper treatment for both the disease and its symptom of depression. Unfortunately their stories are not unique. In fact, it is estimated that at least half of all Parkinsonís patients suffer from clinical depression.

PODCAST: How Depression Impacts Parkinson's Patients. Spoken by Irene Hegeman Richard, MD, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Self-awareness is paramount. Be on the lookout for what doctors call anhedonia ó a lack of enjoyment in activities and situations that once brought you joy. You must also pay attention to observations made by family and friends because you or even your physician (unless he/she asks) may not always recognize the signs of clinical depression and anxiety. These symptoms, if left untreated, are damaging at best and deadly at worst.

Possible treatments include antidepressants, lifestyle modifications and therapy or counseling from a qualified practitioner. Support groups are also great outlets for sharing experiences and othersí journeys in this area.

Remember: Clinical depression and anxiety are underdiagnosed in Parkinsonís patients, and they are symptoms of your disease rather than a reflection on your personality.

How am I going to deal with this?

A Parkinson's diagnosis, although life-altering, is not a death sentence. Still, starting with the moment of diagnosis, you being to feel a sense of loss, mourning what you feel your future could have been: Your dreams, aspirations and events yet to come. At some point, though, you have to give up your fear of the future and begin to live for today.

No one should expect your attitude to be eternally optimistic, but sometimes facing a challenge such as this can be a real wake-up call: a chance to re-examine your priorities, and focus not on what you cannot do, but, instead, on what you can. It can be an opportunity to strengthen character and uncover qualities in yourself that you might otherwise never have recognized. Michael J. Fox has talked and written eloquently about this in speeches and books.

My emotions have been all over the map since I was diagnosed. Is there a "normal" amount of time it takes for people to recover emotionally from this news

Parkinsonís disease isnít the end of the world. Many of us writing this wish weíd known when we were diagnosed how well weíd be doing all these years later, and we expect to have many more fulfilling years. There are so many ways you can live with the disease now ó you just have to find what works for you. Never lose hope about the future. There is always something you can do.

I don't want to be defined by a disease. How can I retain my sense of identity?

It takes time to learn that Parkinson's disease does not define who you are, even though you may feel that way when first diagnosed. You are a person with Parkinson's disease, but you are also a husband, wife, friend and so much more. You can still do many things, you will still be loved, and you will still make a contribution for a long time to come.

Parkinsonís disease is part of your life, but it doesnít have to be your whole life. Try and focus on those activities that truly define you, that you enjoy, that increase your quality of life.

There is also still a great lack of awareness about Parkinson's disease among the general public (although we have come a long way). Despite the fact that Parkinson's disease can affect people of all ages, many are under the misconception that Parkinson's is an "old person's disease." And despite the fact that Parkinsonís patients are dealing with so much more than tremor, the other big misconception is that Parkinson's disease is "when you shake." Remember that these are nothing more than misinformed perceptions ó they don't have any bearing on your actual experience.

Are there good reasons to be optimistic?

PODCAST: New Research on Treating Depression in Parkinson's patients. Spoken by Irene Hegeman Richard, MD, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

In a word: Yes. While Parkinsonís disease is a serious illness, and it will pose difficult problems along the way, a person diagnosed today has every reason to hope to benefit from major research advances. Numerous treatments to slow or reverse the progress of the disease are now in clinical trials or have shown promising results in the laboratory. Every year sees the advent of new research technologies and breakthroughs that continue to refine doctors' ability to diagnose and effectively treat Parkinsonís disease.

Living with Parkinsonís disease is a long journey (that's both the good news and the bad news!), one that changes gradually over time. While it is important to prepare for the uncertainty that Parkinson's disease can bring to your life, it is objectively not the best use of energy to look too far into the future in terms of the therapeutic management of your disease. Even within the last 10 years, quality of life for Parkinson's patients has measurably improved. The prospects for the next 5 to 10 years are even better. It truly is possible to live well and thrive with Parkinson's disease.

NOTE: If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or visit



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