Depression Associated With Parkinson’s Is Dangerous But Often Goes Untreated

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urlBy now the world is coming to grips with the loss of Robin Williams, but hopefully many are learning from the combination of issues that appear to have led to the actor’s tragic suicide.

Since his death, it has come out that Williams had been struggling with depression for an extended period of time. He was also in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease (PD). These two facts may seem only loosely related upon first glance, but depression is very common within patients who are experiencing Parkinson’s.

Despite the association between depression and PD being well documented, a recent study from researchers at Northwestern Medicine shows that depression often goes untreated in individuals with PD.

Aside from the motor symptoms that Parkinson’s is most known for, depression is the most prevalent symptom of the disease. Depression is more common amongst patients with PD than worsening cognition, anxiety, olfactory dysfunction, and sleep disturbances.

“We confirmed suspicion that depression is a very common symptom in Parkinson’s disease. Nearly a quarter of the people in the study reported symptoms consistent with depression,” said first author Danny Bega, MD, instructor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology.

“This is important because previous research has determined that depression is a major determinant of overall quality of life.”

As reported in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, the researchers used the National Parkinson’s Foundation patient database to review the records of over 7,000 patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Of those who reported high levels of depressive symptoms, only one-third had been prescribed antidepressants before the onset of the study. Even fewer were receiving counseling from mental health professionals or social workers.

Of the two-thirds of patients with depressive symptoms who were not receiving treatment before the study, less than 10 percent received prescriptions for antidepressants or referrals for counseling during the study period. Researchers also noted that doctors were only likely to recognize and treat depression in individuals with the most severe cases of depression.

“The majority of these patients remained untreated,” said Bega. “Still, the physician recognition of depression in this population was actually better than previous reports had suggested.”

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