Parkinson’s, Depression Link Highlighted in Light of Robin Williams

GREAT NECK, NY – After Robin Williams was found to have early stages of Parkinson’s disease before he died, there has been more of a focus on the link between depression and Parkinson’s disease, which is crucial, a New York geriatrician says.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as many as 60 percent of those with this neurological disease experience some form of depression.

“I think one of the problems we have in our society is we tend not to recognize readily depression,” says Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System. “And in Parkinson’s disease patients in particular, the depression is often unrecognized. Patients and family members will focus on some of the physical signs and symptoms – the tremor, the shaking – and will not start thinking about the emotions behind the disease. It will be focusing on what is seen, not what is felt. The issue then becomes one of not recognizing or not identifying depression and therefore not treating it. That is a problem because if the Parkinson’s depression is not recognized, then people can evolve into this depressive mode and eventually suicide. And it’s very, very important for all of us and certainly for family members and caregivers to make sure that the patient is not moving into a depressive mode.”

Although there is a strong link between Parkinson’s disease and depression, there is still hope for those with Parkinson’s.

“I think it’s very important for patients and for family members to realize that the depression seen in Parkinson’s disease is a very treatable disease,” Dr. Wolf-Klein says. “If the patient is assessed and properly diagnosed with depression, treatment is right around the corner. And treatment can really result in a marked improvement in the emotional well-being of the patient as well as in the physical condition of the patient because the patient is going to become more confident, more hopeful about their condition and therefore be willing to improve their quality of life to return to the daily activities, the hobbies that they enjoy, the family gathering. And that’s going to be very important because what we’re after is better quality of life for everybody.”

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