How can Parkinson's affect Mood?

20 January 2013

Interview with

Dr James Rowe, Cambridge University

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In order to find out more about the mood symptoms that Alan mentioned and the progression of Parkinson's disease, I return to speak with neurologist Dr. James Rowe from Cambridge University...

James -   Depression, and the other mood problem of anxiety, are extremely common with Parkinson's disease.  There are a lot of questions unanswered.  The first is that, is it more common than you would expect in people of a similar age?  Is the depression a reaction in some people against having what is essentially bad news?  Is it a reaction to having a restriction on your lifestyle, in your expectations of a happy and active retirement?  Or could it be something more that the illness itself is leading to depression?  One of the challenges we face is it’s not clear whether the usual approach is the treatment of depression that you might take in younger adults without Parkinson's disease, whether they work as well in patients with Parkinson's disease.

Hannah -   Can you tell us a little bit about the research that’s going on here in Cambridge in the area of Parkinson's?

James -   So that with a very active research clinic here, we’re treating patients really from Cambridgeshire and surrounding counties, and it covers a diverse range of project.  One of them is to really try and understand what the first symptoms of Parkinson's disease are, how it first affects the brain, with or within months of your symptoms coming on.  On that basis, we also want to try and understand what predicts how your Parkinson's disease would evolve.  Will you be someone who lives with it, Parkinson's disease, and remain fully active and independent over 10 or 15 years, or will you be someone who’ll get an early and aggressive dementia perhaps over the first couple of years?  Both of these things can happen. 

What we don’t yet understand is that is predicting and understanding why one individual takes route or the other so a lot of research on to that.  That’s linked to work on both treating some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and our emphasis is on treating the thinking and memory problems that can come with Parkinson's disease what are called cognition or enhancing cognition.  The other aspect is looking at treatments that might alter the course of the illness itself, fundamentally alter the course of the illness. 

What's increasingly clear and the focus for our research is that other chemicals in the brain that can be affected by Parkinson's disease, so two in particular.  We focus on one called serotonin that people might have heard of in connection with depression and mood anxiety.  Another chemical is noradrenalin, a brain’s version of adrenalin.  That’s also very important for clear thinking and flexibility.

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