Depression may strike anyone but people with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive brain disorder, may be at greater risk. People with Parkinson’s Disease, their families, friends and even physicians may misinterpret depression’s warning signs, mistaking them for inevitable accompaniments to Parkinson’s disease. In addition, men, who are more likely to develop Parkinson’s, are more likely than women to have difficulty acknowledging depression.
Depression is a serious medical condition that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in everyday life. Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic and progressive disorder of the brain primarily affecting a person’s movement of various parts of his or her body, but also affecting thinking and emotion. It results from the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in your brain that controls movements. The four main symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include: tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, jaw and face; stiffness of the limbs and upper body; very slow movements; and impaired balance and co-ordination. Individuals may also have difficulty walking, talking, or completing simple tasks.
The symptoms of Major Depression include: Persistent sad, anxious or ‘empty’ mood, feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable (including sex), decreased energy, fatigue or being ‘slowed down’, difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions, insomnia or oversleeping, appetite and/or weight changes, thoughts of death and suicide, restlessness and irritability.
If five of these symptoms are present every day for at least two weeks and interfere with your daily functioning then you may have depression.
Karin Willmse, national director of the Parkinson Association of South Africa says that “ as many as 50% of people with Parkinson’s are effected by depression". She explains that " this is partly a reaction to the physical disabilities well as external problems such as death of a family member or placement in a long term facility”.
People with depression who have Parkinson’s Disease have some different symptoms than those without Parkinson’s. These include higher rates of anxiety, sadness (without guilt or self-blame), and lower suicide rates, despite high rates of suicidal thoughts. Hormonal imbalances are common, such as an underactive thyroid, which can also result in depression.
Treating depression can help people feel better and cope better with their Parkinson’s treatment. Prescription antidepressants are often well-tolerated and safe for people with Parkinson’s Disease. Specific types of psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy’ can also help to relieve depression. Treatment for depression in the context of Parkinson’s Disease should be managed by a mental health care professional, who is in close communication with the physician who is providing the Parkinson’s Disease treatment.
Remember, depression is a treatable illness of the brain. In can be treated in addition to whatever other illnesses a person might have, including Parkinson’s. If you think you may be depressed or know someone who is, don’t lose hope. Seek help for depression.
Parkinsons’s Association of South Africa – 011 787 8792