Depression linked with higher incidence of Parkinson's disease - Research

According to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people who are depressed may have a significantly higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Researchers at the Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, analyzed the medical records of over 20,000 individuals during the course of 10 years. The findings offer substantial insight into the disease. "Depression is linked in other studies to illnesses such as cancer and stroke," states study author Albert C. Yang, MD, PhD. "Our study suggests that depression may also be an independent risk factor for Parkinson's disease."

Characteristics of a tragic illness

A chronic neurological disorder that progressively worsens over time, Parkinson's disease can devastate lives and families. It tends to strike people over the age of 50. The main symptoms of the disease include:

Shaking, or tremors, in the jaw, face, hands, arms and legs
Stiffness of the torso, arms and legs
Impaired movement
Changes in speech and handwriting
Difficulty with coordination and balance
Loss of automatic movements

Individuals with Parkinson's disease also have low dopamine concentrations, a neurotransmitter which regulates the brain's reward and pleasure centers, as well as movement and emotional responses. Depression is common in those with the disease, but the Taiwanese study is the first to recognize a possible correlation between depressed mental states and developing Parkinson's later in life.

Method and results

The researchers conducted a retrospective examination of 23,180 patients (4,634 with depression and 18,544 control subjects). Each participant was monitored for up to ten years to track the rate of new cases of Parkinson's disease. The research team excluded those who were diagnosed with PD within 2-5 years after a diagnosis of depression.

After adjusting the results for age, sex, diabetes, hypertension and additional factors, the researchers discovered that patients with depression were 3.24 times more likely to develop PD in contrast to the control subjects. The complete abstract can be read here.

"Many questions remain, including whether depression is an early symptom of Parkinson's disease rather than an independent risk factor for the disease," Yang observed. "Our study also found that depression and older age and having difficult-to-treat depression were significant risk factors as well."

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