Understanding why Depression Is Associated With Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition of the motor functions, characterized by tremors, bradykinesia (slowness of movements), rigidity, and increased risk of falls. All this happens not because of problems in the joints or damage to peripheral nerves, but rather due to changes in the central nervous system (i.e., the brain).
For decades, Parkinson’s disease was regarded as a disease of movement only, but slowly, scientists’ understanding of it has changed. It is no secret that people suffering from Parkinson’s disease are more prone to psychological problems like anxiety and depression. The medical community considers depression in Parkinson’s disease to be a result of the physical disability that stems from the condition.
Depression has attracted a great deal of attention in the last few decades, especially due to several high-profile suicides related to it. This forced the scientific community to take a second look at depression in connection with Parkinson’s disease, and it was found that depression is frequently associated with the condition. Almost half of patients suffer from it, and 8%–25% of Parkinson’s patients are likely to develop major depression (1).
This has led scientists to compare the prevalence of depression in other diseases that are as debilitating as, or even more so than, Parkinson’s disease (think about spinal cord injuries or post-stroke syndrome, where many people are left completely dependent on others). However, when the prevalence of depression in Parkinson’s disease was compared to this kind of disability, it was found that the association with Parkinson’s disease was much more common.
Parkinson’s disease is often characterized by tremors, stiffness or rigidity, and slow movements due to changes in the central nervous system, or the brain. Depression has also been seen as a common occurrence among individuals suffering from the disease. Depression cannot be easily identified in an individual, and at times, even the best specialists fail to identify it in individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease. There are many changes one can observe in individuals suffering from depression, such as being in a low mood most of the day or every day; loss of interest in the activities they used to enjoy at certain points in their lives; and dietary changes, due to which the individual may either gain or lose weight. With depression, a person tends to become angry or easily agitated for no obvious reason; there is a failure in concentration; they find it difficult to carry out even regular day-to-day tasks; and their sleep pattern is also altered, wherein they may fall asleep late and wake up early. Due to the high number of depression incidences in Parkinson’s patients, a team of scientists decided to investigate why this happens, and they found that the neuronal damage caused by Parkinson’s disease was more extensive than they previously thought. This linkage is believed to be a direct result of the brain damage caused by Parkinson’s. Depression has also been seen in the early period of the disease, when the mobility issue is limited in scope.
Depression in Parkinson’s is an invisible devil, but it can be conquered if the symptoms are identified in a timely manner and treatment is started accordingly. It is therefore important not to ignore even the subtlest of signs. The various high-profile suicides that have occurred due to depression are some examples as to how difficult it is to identify and conquer this mental condition. Treatment for depression should be multidimensional and can involve medications, determining the disturbances in one’s mood, and learning about the various strategies to cope with it, along with ample support from friends and family. An individual can participate in types of therapy such as cognitive or interpersonal to identify their behavioral patterns as well as to encourage improvements in their relationships and communication with others. Social support can bring about a significant reduction in depression. Also, the individual should take some time to practice meditation by focusing on their breathing as well as regulating their thoughts.