Depression Symptoms Often Neglected in Parkinson's Disease


Many patients with Parkinson's disease do not receive treatment for their depressive symptoms.

Many patients with Parkinson's disease do not receive treatment for their depressive symptoms.

Although health care professionals recognize depression as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, many patients still do not receive treatment for their depressive symptoms, according to study results released not long before the news of Robin Williams’ struggles with the early stages of the neurodegenerative disorder prior to his suicide.

For their study published July 17, 2014, in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine collaborated with the National Parkinson’s Foundation (NPF) in reviewing the medical records of more than 7000 patients with Parkinson’s disease.

According to lead study author Danny Bega, MD, nearly one-quarter of the patients reported symptoms consistent with depression, which “confirmed suspicion that depression is a very common symptom in Parkinson’s disease.”

Among those with high levels of depressive symptoms, however, only one-third had been prescribed antidepressants before the study commenced, and even fewer patients received mental health services. Of the remaining two-thirds of patients who were not receiving treatment for depression at the start of the study, less than 10% were prescribed antidepressants or referred for mental health counseling throughout 1 year of observation.

Although Dr. Bega noted in a press release “the physician recognition of depression in this population was actually better than previous reports had suggested,” he cautioned that there might be less recognition in the general Parkinson’s population, since the patients observed in his study visited medical centers deemed “Centers of Excellence” by the NPF.

“Physicians must be more vigilant about screening patients for depression as part of a routine assessment of Parkinson’s disease, and the effectiveness of different treatments for depression in this population need to be assessed,” Dr. Bega concluded.

In a statement released 3 days after Williams committed suicide on August 11, 2014, Susan Schneider revealed that the star comedian had recently been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease, sparking speculation that the neurodegenerative disorder contributed to the actor's death.

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