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Depression Takes a Toll on Parkinson's Patients

Tracking Parkinson's Disease: Other Findings

After depression, mobility issues affected a patient's health status the most, the researchers found.

Mobility problems can affect balance, walking ability, and everyday tasks.

Exercising more than 2.5 hours a week is linked with fewer mobility problems and less difficulty in doing everyday activities, according to the researchers.

While all the centers were considered expert at caring for Parkinson's disease patients, the care itself varied, the research found.

There were different referral rates, for instance, to physical, occupational, and other therapists.

Depression & Parkinson's: One Man's Story

Jeff Mackey of Melrose, Fla., is one of the 50% of Parkinson's patients who knows all too well about depression.

The 60-year-old Episcopal priest was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease five years ago, after noticing a hand tremor first thought to be harmless.

He had struggled with mild depression starting in his teen years, he says. It was kept under control, sometimes with low doses of medication, he says.

But when his neurologist diagnosed Parkinson's, he also told Mackey the depression had gotten worse.

Mackey is now on a mood stabilizer and another drug for the depression. "My mood now is much higher; it's stable," he says. "I am able to kind of float above the depression."

Depression still brings him down a day or two a month -- much less than before, he says. "It's gone from almost constant to rare," he says.

Parkinson's Patients' Challenges: Perspectives

The study findings, especially those about depression, ring true with neurologists who treat people with Parkinson's.

"I am not surprised at all by the depression findings," says Michele Tagliati, MD, director of the movement disorders program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. "It's something we see all the time," he says.

"The depression really colors the experience of these patients in a dramatic way," he says. "It's not the sadness of someone looking in the mirror [and saying, 'I have Parkinson's']. It is an integral part of the disease."

Others agree.

"There is a strong link between psychological symptoms and Parkinson's," says William Buxton, MD, medical director of neurodiagnostics at the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, and associate clinical professor of neurology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

"Many patients have generalized anxiety for a year or two before symptoms," he says, citing anecdotal and published reports.

The new report, he says, "reinforces what we know, that Parkinson's is not only a disease that just affects walking and motor function, but impacts a patient's sense of well-being and psychological state."

For patients, he says, "the message ... is to stay on top of how they are feeling emotionally" and to keep their doctors informed.

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