Parkinson's and depression can link, but it doesn't always have to be

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- According to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year.

But is there a link between Parkinson's and depression?

It's possible a diagnosis can propel a person into depression, and for those already suffering depression, it can be worse.

But there is hope.

Parkinson's disease affects 1.5 million people in America. 20 percent of Americans with Parkinson's disease aren't younger than 50 years of age.

Parkinson's disease is caused by the degeneration of the pigmented neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain, resulting in decreased dopamine availability.

Clinically, the disease is characterized by a decrease in spontaneous movements, gait difficulty, postural instability, rigidity and tremor.

For 76 year old Rick Richardson, he says there were signs and symptoms

"I had developed a bit of a tremor in my hand and arm when I tried to eat, and my handwriting had never been great, but it was now terrible."

However, he displayed only some of Parkinson's and not others.

"I have a ratchet movement in my right arm and my right leg. A ratchet movement means it doesn't move as easily, swings freely. I freeze quite a bit."

Freezing, he says, means when you come up to a door or even walk up to a chair, you momentarily lose the ability to move forward; you just stand there.

Richardson has Parkisonism, which causes a combination of movement abnormalities seen in Parkinson's disease. He says getting diagnosed with such a condition was a bit overwhelming.

Symptoms aren't the only thing that can trigger depression in Parkinson's patients. Brain chemistry changes occur including reduction in serotonin and dopamine which both have an affect on mood.

But psychologist, Dr. Angelo Domingo says some are more vulnerable to these effects.

"If someone has depression before they have Parkinson's disease, that depression is probably going to get much worse," Domingo said.

Patients can be helped medically with anti-depressants that increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. There are multi-disciplinary care centers dedicated specifically to those with Parkinson's disease.

"When my wife said she thought I have Parkinson's and finally convinced me to go to the doctor, and he confirmed it. It was actually a bit overwhelming, yes"," Richardson said.

What happens if someone is depressed prior to a Parkinson's diagnosis?

Dr. Domingo says people can adapt in terms of depression and Parkinson's disease.

"This disease may require you to do things differently but it certainly does not mean you can't do the things that you used to do," Domingo said. "And once people learn that, and they no longer feel helpless, depression lifts. I see it every day. So, there's hope."