If you or someone you know suffers from Parkinson’s disease, it’s not terribly hard to see some of the connections that it can have to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice work with clients who have Parkinson’s disease as well as clients with depression issues. In some cases, people may have both together, which creates an interesting challenge.
At first glance, one would seem to follow the other.
If you have Parkinson’s disease, the constant muscle tremors, muscle stiffness, balance problems, difficulty walking, or other unusual muscle activity can become tiresome and painful. The behavior can be noticeable, even to strangers in public, and can limit some activities, even simple tasks like eating or drinking.
People with Parkinson’s Disease often get poor sleep as a result. The fact that there isn’t any universal cure and it’s a progressive condition also can add to the frustration one can feel.
All of these ingredients can be recognized as some of the classic building blocks for depression: mental and physical fatigue that goes on and on, and can show up in many ways, including sadness, anger, boredom, numbness, or lack of motivation to do anything. Depression can cause physical pain, contribute to poor health, relationship problems, weaker immune systems, and even suicide or self-harm.
Newer research into Parkinson’s disease shows that there actually may be more going on than people realize. It may seem like depression follows being diagnosed with the disease and then one begins to learn to live with the disease for the rest of their life.
Some studies show that there are some connections between the two conditions related to brain chemistry, such as both being known for chronically low levels of dopamine, a chemical that regulates pleasure. Low serotonin levels, another compound that regulates moods, and norepinephrine are also seen in people diagnosed with depression.
Newer research suggests that some people may have depression first and then Parkinson’s later. In fact, new feelings of depression, minus other obvious factors such as life changes or trauma, may be one of the early indicators of Parkinson’s disease and could be seen as an actual risk factor.
Depression is also seen as not just a result of Parkinson’s disease – the brain trying to deal with this chronic condition – but an actual symptom.
Some methods to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease involve prescribing antidepressants, counseling, lifestyle changes, and other methods that are known to help improve depression conditions.
How to learn more
Research is continuing into both the areas of depression and Parkinson’s disease, but both conditions aren’t necessarily being researched together.
For instance, the Parkinson’s Foundation continues to advocate for people with the condition, educate them and their families, and raise money for research. Its goal is to improve research and care, as well as help people with the disease improve their quality of life.
The foundation also expects the number of cases to grow.
Current research shows that there are under 1 million people in the U.S. with Parkinson’s disease, and 10 million people worldwide. About 60,000 people are diagnosed each year.
The U.S. figure is expected to grow to 1.2 million by 2030.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that as many as 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from depression.
In some cases, when someone with depression feels their symptoms stronger than usual, it is known to amplify the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as more intense muscle problems, slower responses, or even mental problems like forgetting words.
Someone being treated for Parkinson’s should make sure to talk to their health care provider about possible connections to depression. Looking at these similarities may help find some common ground where both conditions could be treated at the same time.
This could include medication management, psychotherapy, and even suggestions to get more exercise or finding people to talk to about both conditions since neither is understood that well by the public.
Celebrate in April
April has been declared Parkinson’s Awareness Month by the Parkinson’s Foundation and other advocacy groups. The foundation hopes to use the month to get more people to learn about the disease, including people dealing with it, their family and loved ones, and health care providers.
As part of its efforts, it tries to educate people about upcoming studies and trials and how people can participate in them.
It also promotes something called the Parkinson’s Prevalence Project, which hopes to better find out how much of the population has Parkinson’s disease, including their age, their gender, and where they live. This project can provide a national database and possibly identify different population areas – is it evenly spread through the country or is it found more in certain clusters? It also might show trends in ages and genders and may even identify common factors in people who have it.
The last time a study like this was performed was in 1978. Though medical professionals do keep track of cases, the foundation hopes to create a more comprehensive data set.