Combating depression in Parkinson’s disease with exercise

Robin Williams was one of many who fell to be a victim of smiling depression. It only came out after his death that he also suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Now that mental health has once again come to the forefront of the media attention due to this devastating incident, I thought it would be appropriate as a physiotherapist to talk about the issue of Parkinson’s disease and depression.

Research suggests that depression and anxiety are twice as common in people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease compared with the general population. At least 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease experience clinical depression at some point during their disease. A person with Parkinson’s or his family member can easily dismiss the signs of depression, as they might assume that it is normal to be depressed with this illness. One should not brush depression off – it can majorly exacerbate symptoms and have a significant negative impact on one’s quality of life.

Parkinson’s related depression should be addressed with the doctor. There is no simple way for treating it, but together with medication, exercise and psychological treatments it can be treated.

I want to talk about how important exercise is for people with Parkinson’s disease and depression. Often it is low mood that is more debilitating than the movement problem itself, however evidence shows that a long term exercise program can help ease the depression. This can be any form of exercise from walking, swimming, and dancing to tai chi. People suffering from Parkinson’s disease should see exercise like a drug, as it is often a great symptomatic supplement to medicine. Muscle strengthening exercises and specific neurological physiotherapy helps to improve movement and balance, making it easier to continue doing daily tasks and living a normal life.

Written by Hily Perpinyal, Chartered Physiotherapist

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