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Understanding depression, apathy and anxiety in Parkinson’s


“Most people don’t realize that Parkinson’s has mental health symptoms. And it’s those symptoms that are harder to deal with than the ones you can see some days.” – Ben Smith, Calgary Volunteer Event Coordinator. 

Unbeknownst to many, Parkinson’s often comes with an onslaught of mental health symptoms. Like Ben, many Canadians living with Parkinson’s report these symptoms being more challenging to manage than the more well-known symptoms. 

Coming into Parkinson’s and discovering that depression, apathy and anxiety are par for the course can add stress and confusion at a time when so many other changes are also taking place, and often exasperates other symptoms. Conversations about mental health, while coming into mainstream media more commonly, still carry a stigma and make it difficult for people to feel comfortable openly exploring how to live with mental health challenges.  

Knowing how to navigate depression, apathy and anxiety, understanding how common they are and recognizing that you’re not alone in your mental health experiences in Parkinson’s are keys to seeing that life with Parkinson’s is still possible.  

If you or a loved one are experiencing this array of non-motor symptoms, Parkinson Canada has multiple resources and recommendations for learning about and managing depression, apathy and anxiety.  

1) Get a copy of the Canadian Edition of Every Victory Counts® 

 Chapter four of this invaluable resource is dedicated to the discussion of depression, apathy and anxiety. You’ll find about another 75 mentions of the role of mental health and its impact on those living with Parkinson’s throughout the entirety of the book, as well.  

Tip: If you download the digital version of the book, you can “search” the book in your e-reader (such as Adobe) for terms like “depression,” “mental health,” “anxiety” and others to help you pinpoint the information relevant to your interest in mental health. 

Download the Canadian Edition of Every Victory Counts® 

2) Seek out resources about mental health and Parkinson’s through trusted sources, like Parkinson Canada’s webinars and downloadable resources.  

Here is a webinar recording of a presentation captured in late 2018. The information within describes the mental health challenges of Parkinson’s and what can be done to aid them in an easy-to-understand manner. While we’ve embedded it here to begin at the two-minute mark, you may wish to watch the full-hour presentation. 

Anxiety & Depression in Parkinson’s Disease featuring Theodore Wein MD, FRCPC, FAHA 

Follow Parkinson Canada on Youtube to stay up to date on our upcoming webinars. 

Find more strategies to experiment with and deepen your knowledge of depression, apathy, and anxiety by downloading the following resources: 

Parkinson’s Disease, Depression and Anxiety 

Apathy and Parkinson’s  

 3) Connect with others, and stay connected 

A social connection has been proven to be a vital component to coping with depression, apathy and anxiety in Parkinson’s.  

Finding connection can come in all sorts of manners. Whether it’s your loved ones and close friends, attending a Parkinson’s support group or getting involved in a volunteer capacity to keep you positively engaged, finding a connection to others will help dramatically. 

Volunteer Event Coordinator Dan Steele found purpose and connection through joining support groups and taking on the role of coordinating Prince Edward Island’s Pedaling for Parkinson’s event. The journey towards discovering that a full life was still possible was rooted in finding connection first. 

4) Talk to members of your care team about your mental health concerns  

There’s not much your doctors and therapists haven’t heard before. Bringing up the conversation about your feelings of depression or anxiety will help them better understand your Parkinson’s as well as allow them to begin treating that symptom. Especially when working with a Movement Disorder Specialist who primarily works with people living with Parkinson’s, discussing these feelings can lead to solutions to experiment with to help address them.  

5) Find physical activity you enjoy 

Intense and regular exercise is recommended as a first line of treatment for people living with Parkinson’s for its proven ability to improve Parkinson’s symptoms, including motor symptoms, sleep issues, as well as mental health and cognitive functions. 

When exploring what exercise feels right for you, the options are virtually endless. Parkinson Canada works with Wellness Partners across Canada to bring diversity to your exercise routine and help keep you motivated. From yoga to dance, to swimming and boxing, and of course cycling and walking, there are many places to get started on your exercise journey to help manage depression, apathy and anxiety in Parkinson’s.