With September being Healthy Aging Month, we wanted to focus on Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and look beyond the physical symptoms. PD is classified as a motor system disorder and generally afflicts people around the age of 60. The most common symptoms are:
- Tremors or trembling of the hands, arms legs and face
- Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movements
- Impaired balance and coordination.
- Difficulty talking and swallowing.
But what most people don’t realize is that some of the most profound consequences of PD result not from motor symptoms, but from psychiatric and behavioral difficulties. These are issues separate from the physical symptoms and are often untreated because they’re not recognized.
Most caregivers are unaware that someone with PD is facing challenges from mood swings to changes in their thinking and behavior. Depression, dementia, and even drug-induced psychosis are potentially crippling conditions that often accompany Parkinson’s. However, researchers and doctors tend to not focus on these issues resulting from PD.
Neurologist Joseph Friendman, MD, Director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at NeuroHealth in Warwick, Rhode Island, and author of Making the Connection Between Brain and Behavior: Coping with Parkinson’s Disease said, “If the patients don’t mention it — and, typically, they don’t — it kind of gets shoved to the side by the issues that are more interesting to the doctor rather than to the patient.”
Almost half of the people diagnosed with PD develop depression. For the most part, those people only experience mild to moderate depression, but roughly 5 to 10 percent of cases are the more severe form known as major depression. There is evidence that supports the theory that depression results partly from neurochemical changes in the brain caused by the PD process. It is more than just a psychological reaction to having PD.
Unfortunately PD is progressive as well as chronic and the physical and mental symptoms grow worse over time. It’s impossible to predict which symptoms will affect an individual patient. The intensity of the symptoms also vary from one person to the next. One person with PD might experience a severe, deep depression while the next person only experiences telltale tremors and shaking.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with PD, take note of your mood and watch for any mood shifts or anxiety and talk to your doctors to let them know how you feel so that they are able to best treat your mental health as well as your physical symptoms of PD.