Depression is often the number one factor negatively impacting a person with Parkinson’s quality of life, more than any of the physical symptoms a Parkinson’s patient experiences. That is a powerful and difficult fact to absorb. The strong connection between the two is important to understand in order to address it with the deserved seriousness. Some may believe that facing a chronic illness would be the impetus for depression, and yes, that can be the case, however, when it comes to Parkinson’s disease, often depression is a precursor to a diagnosis. While not everyone with Parkinson’s suffers from depression, enough do that it is important to understand the causes of the depression and the necessary steps to take if it does develop.
What ultimately comes first, Parkinson’s or depression? The answer is – it depends. There are studies that show that people with clinical depression are 3 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s, which means that depression can be an early symptom, as a 2015 study indicates. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder in which neurotransmitters that are in charge of dopamine production die. People generally associate the lowered dopamine levels of Parkinson’s with movement issues such as tremors, lack of balance, and stiffness. But dopamine is also a “mood-lifting hormone”, which is why its loss in Parkinson’s sufferers can lead to depression as one of the earliest symptoms, seen long before tremors even develop.
Treating Parkinson’s depression with medication
Often the first step in treating depression in Parkinson’s patients is making sure that their Parkinson’s medications are properly regulating dopamine. Once it is regulated, one’s doctor can help find the proper medications that will not adversely affect Parkinson’s medications. It is important to note that there are even some natural supplements that can negatively impact Parkinson’s medications, so it is important to be forthcoming with your doctor regarding any supplements you are interested in trying. Finding the correct medication to treat depression can be a difficult process, whether it be for depression associated with Parkinson’s or not. But it is possible to find the correct mix of medications so that both the depression and other Parkinson’s symptoms improve. It’s imperative to understand that depression is inextricably connected to Parkinson’s and to treat it as a part of the larger picture of one’s treatment.
Treating with movement
Another way to treat depression is to keep moving. Movement is one of the most essential things one can do if they have Parkinson’s to keep muscles strong and maintain mobility (one of the main reasons U-Step was created). For Parkinson’s patients struggling with depression however, the benefits go even further as exercising gives your body a boost of endorphins and lifts your mood. If you are interested in taking up a new exercise but aren’t sure if it’s appropriate for you, please consult your physical therapist.
Relaxation and sleep
Sleep loss impairs task performance, cognitive performance, and can dramatically affect your mood. Making sleep and relaxation a priority in your day can help improve depression. Efforts should be made to create a bedroom that is conducive to healthy, restful sleep.
Talk therapy is a useful step whether or not you are dealing with depression. When one is experiencing mild depression, talk therapy can be the best way to get back to recovery, but if you are experiencing severe clinical depression, talk therapy in conjunction with the right medication can do wonders. While medication acts as an incredibly necessary band-aid, talk therapy gives people the tools and skills they need to cope with depression in the long run.
It may seem tempting to focus solely on the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s you are experiencing. But the emotional and psychological needs are equally important and depression experienced with Parkinson’s is often completely treatable. Understanding this and enthusiastically taking hold of the situation to address it with your care team can bring solutions, drastically improve your quality of life, and with that bring a more optimistic light.