December 6, 2016

Sad or Anxious Feelings With Parkinson’s? How You Can Cope

Depression, anxiety are common and need to be addressed

Sad or Anxious Feelings With Parkinson’s? How You Can Cope

Parkinson’s disease already affects people’s ability to walk and move normally, and when feelings of deep sadness or anxiety are added to the balance, it can make coping especially tough. But if you struggle with depression and anxiety, the good news is that there are many ways to treat these problems.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

About 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, and roughly half report mental health problems, says clinical health psychologist Taylor Rush, PhD. “Prevalence rates vary from 40 to 60 percent in the research, and I’d say my experience is reflective of those figures, as I encounter these issues quite often,” she says.

Knowing more about the interplay between mental health issues and Parkinson’s can help, she says.

Changes in brain chemistry

Parkinson’s causes a drop in chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters — especially dopamine — which affect movement and the brain’s reward center.

An imbalance of neurotransmitters and low levels of dopamine are also at work in depression. This shows why the two are frequently connected.

“Parkinson’s affects brain chemistry, so that’s part of why depression and anxiety symptoms are common in these patients,” Dr. Rush says. “Their brains are often affected in ways that make it more likely to develop symptoms.”

She says the mental effects can sometimes make physical symptoms worse. The signs she sees most often include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

The interplay between physical and emotional symptoms can lead to a downward spiral.

Advertisement

“If patients are developing physical symptoms, they may begin to move less, which can lead to more fatigue and a worse physical condition,” Dr. Rush says. “Then they start feeling even worse. So it’s a vicious cycle between depression and a sense of helplessness that feeds into some of their physical symptoms.”

How to address symptoms

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are many treatments — including medications — that can help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. Patients with depression and/or anxiety will need additional treatment strategies.

Treatment usually depends on how severe symptoms are and each patient’s goals,” Dr. Rush says. “For mild symptoms, we usually start pretty conservatively with just recommendations to improve behavior and possibly some lifestyle changes.”

Try to stay as active as you can, and take steps to minimize stress in your life as much as possible. Learning techniques to help you relax is also often helpful. Try to pace yourself and shift your focus to things that you can control.

“When symptoms are moderate to severe, we usually use psychotropic medications in combination, which help balance out the chemical changes in the brain. We also look at how patients’ thoughts affect their emotions and actions, and we offer suggestions to help address them.”

Lean on people you love

If you have Parkinson’s disease and also struggle with frequent depression or anxiety, you don’t go it alone. Turn to your family and friends for a strong support structure to help you cope. Joining a support group is often helpful — everyone there knows how you feel.

“We know from research that good social support is a protective factor against worsening depression and anxiety symptoms, so it’s incredibly important for patients to utilize the support they have available from family and friends,” Dr. Rush says.

Advertisement

She also has advice for those who are providing this support: “In some cases this means being an active listener without trying to fix their [the patient’s] frustration or sadness, and doing this can often be an incredibly helpful part of the coping process,” she says.

Commit to the right lifestyle

If you commit to lifestyle changes, your doctor’s treatment advice, and the support of family and friends, you give yourself the best chances of seeing improvement in your day-to-day life.

Dr. Rush advises patients: Take the tools you have and make them work for you.

“The patients who often do well are those who come in for treatment consistently, because they’re utilizing resources to their advantage,” Dr. Rush says. “It isn’t a matter of learning how to get rid of these symptoms, but the goal is to make the symptoms milder and less intrusive so they can still have a good quality of life.”

Related Articles

elderlay man drinks water in his kitchen
October 5, 2020
The Best Diet for Parkinson’s Disease

Following a healthy diet can boost your well-being

Trembling hand resting in another person's hands for comfort.
October 25, 2018
Is Your Trembling Caused by Parkinson’s — or a Condition That Mimics It?

Why seeing a neurologist can save you time and money

Close up of person pouring a cup of coffee
February 23, 2024
Does Caffeine Help Headaches?

It’s all about the amount — try to stick to 100 to 150 milligrams a day to reduce and prevent a pounding, throbbing head

blurred person looking out window in background with glass of wine and bottle in foreground
February 21, 2024
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Brain?

Even one drink can have an impact on your cognitive function leading to slurred speech, blurred vision and impaired memory

female on couch reading a nasal spray bottle label
February 20, 2024
What To Know About Nasal Spray for Migraines

Among the options is a fast-acting medication that offers relief in as little as 15 minutes

two people doing jumping jacks on pavement outside
February 19, 2024
How Exercise Can Help Boost Your Memory

Cardio is great for improving cognition, but strength and balance training are just as important

Caregiver and elderly male with head bent down
February 2, 2024
After Your Stroke: How To Handle 14 Common Complications

Your age, the type of stroke you had, the cause and the location can all impact your recovery

close up of caregiver's hands helping elderly person using a walker
January 2, 2024
Long-Term Care Options for Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s critical to understand the wishes of your loved one and seek their involvement whenever possible

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad