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Study Links Depression to Increased Parkinsonís Risk

In a new study, researchers report that people diagnosed with depression were three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD) than those without psychiatric illness. However, it remains unclear whether depression is an independent risk factor for Parkinson’s or an early symptom of the disease. The results appear in the October 2 online edition of Neurology.

Among people with Parkinson’s, depression is well known as a common and disabling symptom. Studies have shown that some people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have been treated for depression years before developing Parkinson’s symptoms.  This has raised the question of whether depression may actually increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

To investigate this relationship, researchers led by Albert C. Yan, M.D., Ph.D., at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, analyzed the medical records of 23,180 people over age 20 enrolled in Taiwan’s national health insurance system. They started with the records of 4,634 people who were diagnosed with depression in 2000 and 2001. They matched each of these records with four records of people matched for age and sex, but who had no psychiatric disease. This formed a control group of 18,544 records. The researchers looked at up to 10 years of medical history for each participant to find out how many developed PD in that time period.


  • During the follow-up period, 66 people diagnosed with depression developed PD (1.42 percent), and 97 people in the control group developed PD (0.52 percent).
  • People with depression were more than three times as likely to develop PD than people of similar age and sex who did not have a psychiatric disease.
  • Depression that was difficult to treat—requiring two or more changes in medication within the first two years of diagnosis—was a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.
  • People over age 65 with depression had higher rates of Parkinson’s disease than those of similar age without depression.

What Does It Mean?

Being diagnosed with depression does not mean that a person will develop PD.  The study does, however, lend support to the idea that depression is associated with higher risk of the later development of PD.

In particular, these results suggest that people diagnosed with depression who are older than age 65 and people whose depression is difficult to treat, should be alert to symptoms of PD and other neurological disorders.

Further research is needed to understand whether depression is an independent risk factor for Parkinson’s or a non-motor symptom that develops before the movement difficulties of the disease appear.  

If depression is a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease then it is possible that aggressive treatment of depression might reduce risk for developing it.  If depression is an early non-motor symptom of PD, then research should focus on how to halt the progression from depression (non-motor sign) to full blown motor PD.

Either way, better understanding of the link between depression prior to diagnosis and PD will help advance the field of PD prevention.

Learn More

Do you have more questions about falls and Parkinson's? Contact us at (800) 457-6676 or or use our free resources below.

View the PD ExpertBriefing: Anxiety and Depression in Parkinson's Disease

 Read the Fact Sheet: Combating Depression in Parkinson's

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Source Date: Oct 08 2013