Nov 01, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs


Parkinson’s disease is an illness that affects the nervous system and impacts movement. That’s what all the textbooks say. What they often leave out though, is that it also can affect your mood. Experts are well aware that at least 40 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s also have a mood disorder like depression. But David Sprecher, MD, a neurologist with University of Utah Health, wants people to know it is manageable. “It is something they can live with,” he says “and as they gain information and education about it and work with a specialist, the vast majority of Parkinson’s patients can have a very good quality of life.”

One way Parkinson’s affects the body is by reducing the amount of dopamine in the body. Low levels of dopamine and other brain chemicals like serotonin lead to depression. Rodolfo Savica, MD, who also works with Parkinson’s patients, says this is why mental health evaluations are an important part of treatment. “Our goal as physicians is the well-being and happiness of our patients,” he says. “We don’t want people to experience severe mood disorders.”

Another issue Parkinson’s patients have to navigate is the fact some medications used to treat depression can make their motor symptoms worse. Sperecher recently helped a patient facing this dilemma. He says that once her anti-depressant was changed she saw a decrease in tremors and better control of her speech which led to her mood improving as well. He says it was “like she was let out of a fog.”

Both Sprecher and Savica say when dealing with an illness like Parkinson’s maintaining a positive attitude is important. Sprecher points to Michael J. Fox as a good role model. The actor was 29 when he was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s. He attributes much of his success in living well as seeing the glass as “half full.” Savica noted that one of his current Parkinson’s patients, who is in his 60s, sees his big dilemma right now as whether he should run a half marathon or the full 26.2 miles.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic disease, not a fatal one. Patients and their care givers need to focus on not just the physical, but on the mental and emotional aspects of life. “Getting the right motor medication treatments, along with the right anti-depressants, can really help people live normal lives,” says Shprecher.

For more information on Parkinson’s treatment at the University of Utah, go to: www.utahmovementdisorders.com.

parkinsons disease

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