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Study Finds Depression Has Major Effect on Health of Parkinson’s Patients

National foundation recommends yearly screening (Nov. 28)

The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) has released early findings from the largest clinical study of Parkinson's disease (PD) ever conducted, showing that depression is the most important factor influencing the health status of PD patients. The new study is part of the Parkinson's Outcomes Project, a longitudinal look at which treatments produce the best health outcomes. Started in 2009, the study includes data from more than 5,500 people with PD in four countries.

A chronic brain disease, PD causes tremors, muscle rigidity, and slowed movement. According to the new study, however, the effect of depression on health status is almost twice that of the motor impairments universally associated with PD. About half of patients with PD are believed to experience some form of depression during the course of the disease, and research suggests that depression and anxiety may be more common in PD patients than in patients with other chronic diseases. However, depression can be difficult to diagnose in people with PD because many common disease symptoms, such as fatigue and masked facial expressions, may hide mood changes. Studies show that most people with PD go unrecognized or undertreated for depression.

Based on the study’s findings –– and on the fact that addressing depression can positively affect levels of disability, relapse, and health status –– the NPF recommends that:

  • Physicians screen patients for depression at least once a year.
  • Patients discuss any change in mood with a healthcare professional, and make sure that their PD physician is aware.
  • Patients bring to doctor's appointments a family member, who is encouraged to share any changes noted in the patient's mood.

Source: National Parkinson Foundation; November 28, 2012.

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