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Doctors Focus on Depression in Patients with Parkinson’s

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Doctors have found that nearly half of all Parkinson’s patients also suffer from depression, and many patients mistakenly assume that the condition is simply something they have to live with. Not so, say doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who are leading a nationwide study to test the effectiveness of anti-depressants in patients with the disease.

The study will include 228 patients at 19 sites around North America, including Rochester. Doctors conducting the four-year study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, are testing whether the anti-depressant medications paroxetine (brand name Paxil) and venlafaxine (brand name Effexor) are effective at alleviating the depression that many Parkinson’s patients experience. It’s the first large placebo-controlled study testing how well anti-depressant medications actually work in patients with Parkinson’s.

“Many people who are depressed are reluctant to seek treatment,” said Irene Richard, M.D., the neurologist who heads the study. “Some patients believe it’s just a matter of will to overcome depression, and others think it’s just a normal response to being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We’re saying that the depression is part of Parkinson’s, that there is treatment for their depression.”

Of Parkinson’s patients who become depressed, about half have “major” depression that has a significant impact on their lives, while others have milder forms of depression that are still distressing, doctors say. Since many people who are depressed often have a difficult time recognizing the condition or seeking help, doctors and nurses have found that the initial phone call looking for help often comes from a concerned family member or loved one.

Recently the American Academy of Neurology recommended that doctors evaluate all Parkinson’s patients for depression. And in an article in the journal Neurology, scientists said that doctors need to be on the lookout for both apathy and depression in Parkinson’s patients.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and is interested in participating in the study should call Cheryl Deeley at (585) 341-7500.

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