Depression and Parkinson’s Disease

Today’s headline reads ‘Depression may be factor in Parkinson’s risk’. This comes from a Swedish study where more than 500,000 people were tracked for over two decades.

The finding was that people with depression may be almost three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s Disease is something very close to my heart – my grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease rather late, as doctors thought that his troubles may be caused by a past heart operation, leading them down the wrong path. Diagnosis took a while and the disease took hold of my Grandad pretty quickly. I was 16 years old when he passed away, and in the end he was bedbound, unable to swallow, blink or talk. It was awful to see, particularly given that only 5 years prior to that he was dragging me round in a sledge at the age of 76 when I was quite clearly too heavy.

Often, people associate Parkinson’s Disease with shaking, but my Grandad never really had that and, though people say that you cannot die from Parkinson’s Disease, that is what went down on my Grandad’s death certificate.

Because of my experience with Parkinson’s, I really want to make whatever difference that I can. Parkinson’s UK is not government funded and therefore relies entirely on donations from the public. Two weeks ago, myself and my partner walked 6 miles for Parkinson’s UK and raised just under £350 in the process. It really isn’t a huge amount but the charity was very grateful.

parkinsons

The problem with Parkinson’s is that there isn’t enough money available to fund research into the disease. In truth, people don’t seem to view Parkinson’s as one of the ‘big’ diseases (for want of a better phrase) and therefore know very little about it.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease, affecting around 127,000 people in the UK (or one in every 500). It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and it is a condition which causes loss of nerve cells in the brain. The disease is categorised by shaking, slowness of movement and stiffness.

This study has now linked Parkinson’s and depression, though it is not certain as to whether depression is a “very early symptom” of Parkinson’s, or whether depression is a risk factor which increases the chances of developing the disease.

140,000 Swedish citizens over the age of 50, who had been diagnosed with depression between 1987 and 2012, were studied. Each person was matched with three control participants i.e. someone who had not been diagnosed with depression and who had the same year of birth and sex as the person with depression. It was discovered that 1.1% of those with depressive symptoms developed Parkinson’s. In comparison, the figure for those who did not suffer depression was 0.4%.

Interestingly, no link was found between Parkinson’s, depression and genetic or environmental factors – there was no link between one sibling having depression and the other having Parkinson’s. Crucially, when the researched adjusted for other conditions related to depression such as alcohol and drug abuse, the link between depression and Parkinson’s did not change.

The more serious the depression, the greater the risk of Parkinson’s disease. People who had been hospitalised for depression were 3.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than people who had been treated for depression as outpatients.

This new study could really have an impact on our understanding of Parkinson’s Disease and our understanding of depression. My hope is that the articles on this study in newspapers today will raise awareness of both issues, and will encourage earlier, more accurate diagnosis in sufferers. Every single hour, someone in the UK is told that they have Parkinson’s Disease, and we need to work together to find a cause and ensure that people are able to live a long, happy life with Parkinson’s Disease.

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