Robin Williams, Parkinson's disease and depression

August 14, 2014
DrNealHermanowicz
The revelation this week that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease is highlighting the connection between the disorder and mental health.
 
Though there’s no evidence that the actor’s mental state at the time of his death was related to his diagnosis, Dr. Neal Hermanowicz, director of the UC Irvine Health Movement Disorders Program, says depression is among the hidden symptoms of Parkinson’s.
 
“The shaking and impaired mobility are well known to most people, but Parkinson’s may cause many other problems that, in some people, are more disturbing and have a greater impact on quality of life than the tremor and movement difficulties,” Hermanowicz says.
 
“Published studies indicate that 40 to 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease experience symptoms of depression that can range from mild to severe,” he says. “It has also been reported that symptoms may occur very early, perhaps even some years before the appearance of the more widely recognized motor symptoms.
 
“Depression in Parkinson’s disease can create not only the obvious problem of sadness but may also have a more broad impact on cognitive functions such as memory and clarity of thought,” he said.  “Untreated depression may also negatively influence mobility.”
 
Hermanowicz says this disease-related depression is regarded seriously enough by the American Academy of Neurology that screening for mood disorders is included in their recommended quality measures for the care of people with Parkinson’s disease.
 
“Everyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease has apprehension about how this may affect their life,” he says. “Although the disease is not yet curable, it is treatable, and the methods of treatment are improving and new developments are being explored.”
 

Depression, too, can be successfully treated, and doing so could enhance a patient’s quality of life, he adds.

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