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How does Parkinson's disease influence depression?

Friday November 10, 2017

Lana Burgess

Medical News Today - Parkinson's disease is a condition affecting nerve cells in the brain, which then impacts the way a person moves. But how is Parkinson's disease linked to depression?

A person diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may have trouble moving. Parts of their body may start shaking, their body and muscles may feel stiff, and they may move more slowly than usual. 

In addition to the physical symptoms that characterize the condition, people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may also experience depression.

Fast facts:
  • Feeling depressed is more serious and long-term than just feeling sad.
  • Experiencing depression could be an early indicator of Parkinson's disease.
  • Depression is a symptom of Parkinson's disease, just like tremors are.
  • Treatments include anti-depressants and counseling.

How are Parkinson's and depression related?

50 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may experience depression which is a mood disorder.

It is normal for a person to feel sad when they have been diagnosed with a serious condition such as Parkinson's disease. But feeling this way does not necessarily mean a person is depressed. 

Depression is a mood disorder that can affect a person's ability to carry out daily activities and about 50 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease experience depression. This is thought to be distinct from feeling sad about their diagnosis.


Depression is considered to be a symptom of Parkinson's disease in the same way as involuntary shaking. Both are caused by changes in the brain chemistry.

Research by the National Parkinson Foundation compared the impact of mood, depression, and anxiety with that of the physical symptoms of Parkinson's disease. 

It found psychological symptoms of the condition might have more of a negative impact on a person's overall health than physical ones. 

Brain chemistry in Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease is caused by a lack of dopamine production in the pars compacta region of the brain.

Dopamine helps to regulate the way a person moves. Reduced dopamine leads to the physical symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Reduced levels of serotonin can affect a person's mood and may cause them to experience depression.

What the Research Says

2013 study found that people diagnosed with depression were 3.24 times more likely to go on to develop Parkinson's disease. 

A further study in 2015 determined that depression might be an early symptom of Parkinson's disease or a factor that increases the risk of developing the condition.

Scientists at The Michael J. Fox Foundation believe that decreased levels of serotonin in the brains of people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease cause depression. The research to prove this link is ongoing.

What are the symptoms?

The physical symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:

  • uncontrollable shaking (tremors) in parts of the body
  • stiffness in the body and muscles
  • moving more slowly than usual
  • trouble balancing


People diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may also experience depression and anxiety. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • ongoing sadness lasting for more than 2 weeks
  • feeling hopeless or like everything is pointless
  • feeling guilty, self-critical, or worthless
  • not enjoying activities that were once pleasurable
  • crying for no reason
  • trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • finding it very hard to get up in the morning
  • eating too much or too little
  • feeling very tired and lacking in energy
  • thinking about death, disability, or self-harm
  • feeling less able to do daily tasks, such as showering or doing housework

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • persistent worrying
  • feeling restless
  • feeling a sense of dread
  • trouble concentrating


As it is common for a person with Parkinson's disease to experience depression, their doctor will often ask questions about this when discussing their condition.

If a person with Parkinson's disease experiences symptoms of depression, and their doctor has not already asked about it, they should raise it themselves. A person might feel like signs of depression are a sign of weakness, but this is not the case. 

Even so, a person may find it difficult to talk about changes in mood with their doctor. If this is the case, they may find it helps to bring a close friend or family member to appointments to talk about it for them.

Discussing both the physical and psychological symptoms of Parkinson's disease with the doctor is essential so they can prescribe the right treatment.

The following treatments may help people with Parkinson's disease manage depression:


2012 study found two types of antidepressants were effective in reducing the symptoms of depression in people with Parkinson's disease. These were:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

There are different brands of these antidepressant types available. A doctor can prescribe these. Also, the following strategies can help a person manage depression:

  • planning small goals that can be achieved each day
  • seeing friends and family, or speaking on the phone
  • trying to keep up leisure activities
  • reading about depression and trying to talk to close friends or family about it


It is common for a person diagnosed with Parkinson's disease to experience symptoms of depression. 

Depression can have just as much of an impact on a person's life as the physical symptoms of Parkinson's disease. It is a psychological symptom of the condition that doctors believe is caused by changes in the brain's chemistry.

Fortunately, there are treatments available that may help people with Parkinson's disease manage depression. For this reason, it is crucial for a person with Parkinson's disease to discuss any symptoms of depression with their doctor.