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Parkinson’s Disease and Depression

Parkinson’s disease causes a number of difficult physical symptoms, but it can also affect your mental health. Around half of people with Parkinson’s disease experience depression, which can make fighting the neurological illness even harder. If you or a loved one has Parkinson’s disease, you should be aware of the connection between Parkinson’s and depression as well as forms of treatment are available.

Chronic Illness and Depression

Being diagnosed with any chronic illness can increase your risk of depression. When you’re facing a new medical diagnosis, you have to accept the fact that your future has changed. While there have been great advancements in treating many chronic diseases in recent years, illness does take a toll on your life. You might feel like you’re grieving the loss of your health as you learn to cope with your diagnosis, so intense feelings of anger, sadness, or hopelessness are very common.
Chronic illness can also cause a major shift in your lifestyle. Hopefully, you can find ways to continue enjoying your hobbies and spending time with the people you love despite your health problems. However, if your diagnosis affects your energy levels, your mobility, or your ability to leave the house, you might feel trapped or isolated. The loneliness could start to affect your mental health, and you may feel as if all your days are blending together into a dull routine.
Another common struggle among people with chronic illnesses is the fear of death or dying. Coming to terms with mortality can be an extremely difficult experience, and it’s a trigger for depression for many people.

How Parkinson’s Disease Can Cause Depression

Parkinson’s disease can lead to depression in the same way that other chronic health conditions can lead to depression. The link between Parkinson’s disease and depression is particularly strong, though, because of the neurological effects of the disorder. Not only do you have to face the social and emotional impacts of a serious diagnosis, but the disease itself may contribute to your depression by changing your brain chemistry.
Parkinson’s disease is neurodegenerative, which means it causes progressive damage to your brain and neurons. Experts are still exploring the connection between depression and Parkinson’s disease, but they believe that Parkinsons depression may occur because the disease decreases the amount of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in your brain.
These three chemicals play a major role in regulating your mood, motivation, energy levels, and cognition. When they’re out of balance, you might feel lethargic, hopeless, or apathetic. Dopamine is a particularly important chemical when it comes to Parkinson’s disease as many of the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by low dopamine levels.
Parkinson’s disease can cause symptoms of depression, but the reverse is true as well. If you’re struggling with depression, you may notice that your Parkinson’s disease symptoms also get worse. Because depression causes fatigue and loss of motivation, your speech or movement may decline faster when your depression symptoms flare up. Managing the disease is difficult, and trying to find the energy to keep your symptoms under control while being weighed down with depression can feel impossible.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually appear long after the disease has started to change your brain. Some people might start to feel the symptoms of depression caused by Parkinson’s disease before their diagnosis. In other cases, though, depression does not develop until long after Parkinson’s disease has made itself known.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Seniors

Depression may go overlooked in seniors with Parkinson’s disease. Older adults tend to be more private about mental health than younger adults, so they may not reach out for help if they’re feeling unwell.
Because Parkinson’s disease is known to cause depression, some people may also think that their depression is unavoidable or untreatable. This is not the case, though. No matter the state of your physical health, you can access mental healthcare and improve your emotional well-being. The first step is to recognize that you’re dealing with depression.
The following are some of the key signs and symptoms of depression you should watch out for in seniors with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Low mood; feelings of sadness, grief, or hopelessness
  • Crying more often than usual
  • Lack of energy beyond what is typical for Parkinson’s disease
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Fixation on death or dying


What to Do if You’re Struggling With Parkinson’s Disease and Depression

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you should be especially watchful for the signs of depression. Noticing and treating the problem right away will help to prevent a worsening of symptoms. Here are the most important steps to take if you’re concerned about Parkinson’s disease and depression:

1. Take care of your physical health.

Eating healthy and exercising may not cure your chronic illness, but these habits can make it much easier to cope with Parkinson’s disease. Following a healthy lifestyle will give your body and brain the energy needed to manage your symptoms and maintain your independence. Healthy living is also an excellent stress reliever, so it’s a great coping mechanism for the challenges of living with a degenerative illness.

2. Ask your loved ones for support.

Talking to your loved ones about your mental health may feel uncomfortable, but they can be a great source of support. Mental illness often develops gradually, so you might not even notice how much your mood has changed. Your depression may be more noticeable to your friends or family, so you could ask them to watch out for symptoms and alert you if you seem different.

3. Talk to your doctor.

Because Parkinson’s disease affects your brain chemistry, your physician should be your main resource for managing your mental health. Your doctor is familiar with your symptoms and current treatments, so they can offer recommendations that are unique to your situation. If you express your concerns about the effects of Parkinson’s disease on your mental health, they can refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist for further support.

4. Attend therapy.

Counseling can be a helpful resource for overcoming your depression and learning to cope with Parkinson’s disease. Although Parkinson’s disease causes physical changes in your brain, you still have the power to change your thinking and adjust your perspective on your life. In therapy, you can learn to let go of your negative thoughts and embrace healthier, happier beliefs about yourself and your future.
Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is a scary experience, and depression is a common co-occurring disorder. You don’t have to struggle with your mental health just because you have Parkinson’s disease, though. Support is available, and it is possible to get your mental health in check while living with a chronic illness.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults who are coping with chronic disease. If you or a loved one is looking for mental health support, contact us today.

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