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Depression and Parkinson’s

It’s common to feel depressed from time to time. Depression is more than a temporary feeling of sadness or unease. It is a symptom associated with Parkinson’s disease. With outside help and appropriate treatments, it is possible to overcome it and enjoy a good quality of life.

Almost 1 in 5 people living with Parkinson's disease have depressive episodes

Depression affects people in very different ways and can cause a diverse set of emotional, cognitive, and also physical symptoms.

  • Loss of interest in usual hobbies or daily activities
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness, anguish, worry or fear
  • Inability to feel joy
  • Difficulty or inability to carry out one’s daily routine
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Persistent sadness
  • Low energy or feeling very tired
  • Changes in appetite, usually in conjunction with a change in weight
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or excessive sleep)
  • Dark or suicidal thoughts (in extreme cases)

Not all people with depression present with the totality of these symptoms.

Depression in people living with Parkinson’s disease can have several causes: 

  • The same process of neuronal death that causes movement disorders and that leads to a lack of dopamine in the brain;
  • The degeneration of neurons in areas of the brain involved in regulating emotions and mood;
  • The announcement of a Parkinson’s diagnosis is a stressful and worrying event that can also trigger depression;
  • The feeling of progressive loss of one’s capacities and autonomy as the disease progresses can also become a trigger for depression;
  • Non-motor fluctuations (off episodes) linked to the therapeutic exhaustion at the end of antiparkinsonian drugs dose. In these cases, these episodes are associated with the return of motor symptoms;
  • Finally, depressive episodes can be side effects of some of your medications.

It can be difficult to determine for yourself if you are depressed, as the symptoms are often similar to what Parkinson’s disease can cause. 

For example, fatigue, sleep disturbances, motor slowdown and loss of emotional expression can be interpreted as symptoms of depression, when they are likely caused by Parkinson’s disease itself.

If you suspect you have symptoms of depression, consult your doctor or a psychologist who can make the diagnosis. He will help you distinguish between the symptoms of depression and those of Parkinson’s disease. He will probably have you fill out questionnaires in order to better establish the diagnosis.

You can also take your own depression test and bring the results to your doctor or psychologist.

To prevent and overcome depression, maintain your social network as much as you can. Find ways to entertain yourself, be creative, and stay active. Exercising regularly helps fight depression. You may also need professional help. 

Certain types of psychological therapy, the most common of which is called “cognitive behavioral therapy,” may help. Talk to your doctor to find out about all of the options available to you.

For moderate to severe depression, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. There are several classes of antidepressants, and your doctor will be able to choose the medication best suited for you, depending on your symptoms and situation. 

St. John’s Wort is a plant with antidepressant properties commonly sold on drugstore shelves. This product is not recommended for people living with Parkinson’s because it causes many drug interactions

Family and friends play an important role in the prevention and control of depression in Parkinson’s disease. Encourage your loved one to stay active, maintain a social network, and see a doctor or psychologist.  

Stay on top of your own mental health. A reduction in the time dedicated to self-care, leisure activities and sleep are examples of changes in your life that could contribute to the onset of depression.

It is important that you take care of yourself, both physically and psychologically. It may seem difficult, but it is essential. This is what will allow you to take good care of your loved one.

Depression can occur at any time in Parkinson’s disease, and even before its diagnosis. In almost 10% of cases, depression precedes the onset of motor symptoms. 

The diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can also trigger depression in some people.

Depression is usually classified as mild to severe. When left untreated, depression can progress to its severe form and affect the person’s independence and quality of life. Some people will go as far as having dark or suicidal thoughts.

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