The world was shocked at the recent news that comedic great Robin Williams committed suicide in his Paradise Bay, California home. Williams, who had a history of depression and addiction, had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, highlighting the link between depression and Parkinson’s disease.
While there is not direct cause and effect relationship between depression and Parkinson’s disease, there is clearly a higher incidence depression in Parkinson’s disease patients. “The neuro-chemical mechanisms involved in depression obviously have some commonality with the degenerative processes of Parkinson’s disease,” says Jonathan Spivack, MD, physician with Renown Institute for Neurosciences.
“Depression hurts the quality of life for patients, and has a negative effect on motor disability in Parkinson’s Disease,” continues Dr. Spivack. “It is something that we screen for regularly in Parkinson’s patients.”
While depression does not increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, up to 50 percent of Parkinson’s patients exhibit some depressive symptoms. Dr. Spivack encourages those with Parkinson’s to stay active, and if they start to feel depressed speak to their doctor.
‘Perfect Storm’: Parkinson’s Disease May Worsen Depression
A push from Parkinson’s disease could have put Robin Williams at risk of a “perfect storm” of depression, medical experts said Thursday.
Williams’ wife said the comedian was battling the early stages of Parkinson’s along with the mood disorder when he took his own life, and health experts say the two are closely linked. Parkinson’s, it turns out, can produce depression even in those who have never suffered from it before.
“I think it makes absolute sense that if you have a pre-existing depression and you get a disorder that by itself has a tendency to cause depression and you also just learned you have the disorder, it creates the perfect storm,” said Dr. Jeff Bronstein, a professor of neurology and director of the movement disorder program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A diagnosis with the disease can be traumatic.
That’s partly because many people have preconceived ideas about Parkinson’s that are “far more grim and dire than reality,” Bronstein said. “The majority of people with Parkinson’s are walking around without telling anyone. You only see the small fraction who are not doing well. And people identify them with the disease.”
While people can develop Parkinson’s disease as early as their 20s, the majority are diagnosed in their early 60s, Bronstein said. “And then they live essentially a normal lifespan,” he added. “In the early stages, the majority live well and without significant disability.”
Although the disease is best known for its deleterious effects on the nerve cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that facilitates movement, Parkinson’s also affects a host of other chemical messengers, including serotonin and norepinephrine, which may explain why patients are more likely to develop depression.
The good news is that Parkinson’s-related depression responds well to currently available antidepressants that pump up the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine circulating in the brain, said Dr. Irene Richard, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a science adviser to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
The bad news: Often doctors and even patients themselves do not recognize the depression. It’s just too easy to say that the patient is down because of the diagnosis, Richard said. Further, Parkinson’s and depression have overlapping symptoms, such as a blank facial expression and a monotone voice, she explained.
Studies have shown “that it’s not uncommon for Parkinson’s patients to have death and suicide ideation,” said Weintraub. “But the traditional view is that suicide is less common among them than in the general population, possibly because of personality changes that make patients averse to taking risks,” he said.[…]
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