“How to Build Resilience While Living with Parkinson’s” or other disorders – webinar notes

With the pandemic, I’ve been reviewing materials received in the past on the topic of resilience. This blog post is about a webinar in January 2019 on building resilience while living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The webinar featured the wonderful palliative care chaplain at UCSF, Judy Long. Though the webinar’s title includes “Parkinson’s,” there is nothing in Ms. Long’s presentation that is specific to PD. Several of the questions are about coping with PD but these questions (and their answers) relate to coping with any neurological condition.

In this webinar, Ms. Long notes that it is only when we notice feeling upset or threatened that we can make a choice about how to respond.  If we don’t notice how we feel we have little hope of making a choice of how to respond and will only react instinctively.  

Through a series of explanations and exercises, Ms. Long presents four obstacles to resilience and tools to overcome each of them through intention and practice.

Obstacles to resilience, or what gets in our way of bouncing back the way we want to:

  1. Not noticing how we feel.
  2. Believing the current circumstances don’t make sense, shouldn’t be happening or are meaningless
  3. Believing I’m all alone and nobody else understands, or feeling isolated
  4. Believing you are helpless and there is no skillful action you can take to change the situation

What can we do to counter these obstacles? There is an opposite to each of these obstacles.

  1. The opposite of meaninglessness is what matters to you most or purposeful positive intentions.
  2. The opposite of isolation is authentic connection with others.
  3. The opposite of helplessness is realizing the choices you have.

Ms. Long offers exercises to overcome these obstacles.

The speaker makes some observations about caregivers:

Even though your inclination may be to handle difficult situations alone, if you do that all the time it is stressful both emotionally and physically and, therefore, unhealthy.  Caregivers tend to fall into this category.

Even when [the caregiving] is difficult and we feel exhausted, it makes a difference to our energy level to remember why we are caring and that it is based on love.  Burnout includes meaninglessness, isolation and helplessness…

Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan listened to the webinar back in January 2019, and shared her notes. (Unfortunately the webinar recording is no longer available online.)

Robin

===============================================================

How to Build Resilience While Living with Parkinson’s
Davis Phinney Foundation
January 15, 2019
Notes by Denise Dagan
Speaker: Judy Long, outpatient palliative care chaplain at UCSF


We all have resilience but we can always strengthen our resilience so we can sustain demands of caregiving or other stresses.

When we feel something is difficult there can be a sense that something is threatening us, like pain, exhaustion or other discomfort.  We may feel as though we need to fight the threat.  This is due to the fight or flight response, which is instinctive. The alternative is to freeze and not do anything.  There may be better responses that will help us bounce back to a more normal state, as opposed to feeling threatened.

A prime skill that will precede everything else, if you can notice that you feel threatened or upset, that noticing is the most important thing you can do because it allows you to make a choice about how to respond.  If you don’t notice how you feel you have little hope of making a choice of how to respond and will only react instinctively.

Obstacles to resilience, or what gets in our way of bouncing back the way we want to:
1. Not noticing how we feel.
2. Believing the current circumstances don’t make sense, shouldn’t be happening or are meaningless
3. Believing I’m all alone and nobody else understands, or feeling isolated
4. Believing you are helpless and there is no skillful action you can take to change the situation

What can we do to counter these obstacles? There is an opposite to each of these obstacles.
1. The opposite of meaninglessness is what matters to you most or purposeful positive intentions.
2. The opposite of isolation is authentic connection with others.
3. The opposite of helplessness is realizing the choices you have.  

Overcoming meaninglessness is positive intention — positive intentions for the good of others can be values you hold dear, like kindness, patience or love (giving and receiving). The most important thing to you may be your family or courage. There are many options, but it should make you feel positive and that you care about the wellbeing of others.

Exercise: Choose an intention each day.  Try this exercise more than one day to see how it works for you. In the morning, before you rise from bed, choose an intention and try to remember that intention throughout the day.  When you’re speaking with someone and begin to feel stressed (annoyed, etc.) use that as a cue that employ your intention.  See if that intention changes the way you respond to that person and in other situations throughout the day. At bedtime review if/when you remembered your intention throughout the day and how it improved the way your interacted with others.  Decide if you will keep with the same intention the next day or try another (kindness, patience, courage, etc.)

Exercise: Think of an interaction that will happen in the next day that will be challenging and pick a specific intention for that interaction that is positive.  If you hope not to get angry or annoyed, turn it around and intend for the other person to feel loved or that you are being patient, etc.

Overcoming isolation is authentic connection with others — connection is protection. This is true from the time of cavemen.  If we hadn’t connected as early humans, we wouldn’t have survived to modern times.

Many of us want to be alone when we are upset.  Sometimes, we need some alone time to process what is going on, how we feel about it and how to respond.
Even though your inclination may be to handle difficult situations alone, if you do that all the time it is stressful both emotionally and physically and, therefore, unhealthy.  Caregivers tend to fall into this category.

Exercise: Notice if you are going it alone too much of the time and make the choice to connect with someone else. Think about who you can bear talk to even though you are upset and make the effort to reach out to them for input and support.

Overcoming helplessness is to make a skillful choice
. Ms. Long tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who emerged whole and developed a psychological theory of meaning.  Everything can be taken from a person excepting the freedom to choose one’s own attitude in any given set if circumstances and the capacity to act even.

Skillful choices you can make are positive intentions, connecting with others or this grounding exercise.

The psychology of positive thoughts is that even when we have a positive series of negative thoughts, we can overcome them with a series of positive thoughts. The benefits of positive thoughts is both emotional and physical.

Exercise: Toward the end of your day think back over the things you were grateful for.  Try to come up with three things.  Name it and say in your mind specifically what you are grateful for.  Jot down on a piece of paper each thing you are grateful for and why.  Go to sleep.  Repeat this exercise for at least two weeks.  At the end of that time reflect back and see if you notice positive things throughout your day, not just at night.  Where we place our intention is what we notice and how we act.

Example: I am thankful for my hot shower this morning.  I am grateful for the massaging way the water hits my back.

Example: I like my hot oatmeal this morning.  It was tan, lumpy, hot, sweet and lumpy.

Example: I am grateful for my husband/child.  Be specific:  My daughter gave me a big hug when I was feeling sad. I was grateful my husband brought the trash can behind the house.

Grounding Exercise: If you know thinking about your breath makes you nervous, you may want to skip this exercise. Extensively studies and found to bring humans into a calmer state of mind when our nervous system is stressed.
Direct your imagination to your heart area.  Place your hand over your heart to enhance the experience. On the in breath, notice that your chest expands.  On the out breath, notice that your chest deflates.   Pretend you can breathe in directly into your heart, as opposed to your lungs.
If your mind wanders, just notice that has happened and bring focus back to your heart and resume breathing into and out of your heart.

Questions-and-Answers

Q. I have early PD and my husband/care partner has early Alzheimers.  We don’t have close family and I have always cared for him.  We are in our mid-70s.  I am so tired.

A. People in early stages of memory loss can remain in the stage of mild cognitive impairment for quite some time.  The best way to encourage that is to have him continue to do as much for himself as possible, keep socially engaged, maintain your physical closeness and foster an intent of patience and care for each other.  When you do something that is beneficial for someone you care about you benefit, yourself, emotionally.  Part of the caregiving instinct comes from evolution of tribal and parental caregiving.  Even when it is difficult and we feel exhausted, it makes a difference to our energy level to remember why we are caring and that it is based on love.  Burnout includes meaninglessness, isolation and helplessness so these exercises counter burnout.

Q. How do you deal with the reality that PD is your future and will only get harder?

A. I am, by nature, someone who likes to look issues directly in its face.  A little information gathering helps me prepare and realize how it will get worse so you can prepare and plan ahead.  That may include some home remodel or relocation, for example.  Taking action to put steps in place can reduce stress. Alternatively, using the tips from this webinar will help you get through each day and life’s others heartbreaks that have nothing to do with PD.

Q. What about the role of a PD care partner who is more concerned with the illness than the person with PD?

A. My inclination is to meet with one, the other, or both partners one-on-one.  Not being in the room with these people to have a conversation about it, I will share how emotions work.  We need to understand how to meet difficult emotions.  It is hard to be around someone who is experiencing difficult emotions.  Try transparency: at a time when you don’t feel upset about this situation, try telling your partner that you would like to share with them at some point how you feel about having PD and have a conversation about it.

Some people find gathering information is useful.  What you do with that information can be practical and helpful and make them feel in control.  It can also be a way to avoid dealing with the emotions the other person is dealing with.

Q. As a care partner to my friend, I notice he/she (has had PD for 11 years) becomes childlike and needy when I’m around, but not so much when his aides are with him and I am not.  This co-dependence is exhausting.  How do I help him learn to be self sufficient?

A. Think about how you can tell the truth in a way that is kind.  You might say to your friend that you’d like to see if he/she might be able to do ___ on his/her own.

Q. What if the person with PD wants to talk about PD all the time and the care partner does not?

A. Try to redirect toward areas of resilience the person with PD can build for themselves.  Suggest some of the exercises in this webinar.  Do them together. Empathize with their feelings underlying their desire to talk about PD, but redirect to resilient skills or social activities to help them feel more emotionally strong and more healthy.  The gratitude practice can be the most beneficial for everyone, including those with PD.

Urinary dysfunction (urgency, frequency, nocturia) – webinar notes

In early June, the Parkinson and Movement Disorder (PMD) Alliance (pmdalliance.org) offered a webinar on urinary dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease (PD). The speaker was neuro-urologist Jalesh Panicker, MD, who specializes in urinary issues in people with neurologic disorders. While the focus was on urinary problems in PD, since the problems of urgency, frequency, and nighttime urination (nocturia) occur in the atypical parkinsonism disorders, we are posting the notes from the webinar here.

There was also a question-and-answer session following the webinar. Here’s an interesting question and answer:

Q: Is it better to train your bladder to hold a lot of urine, or to go to the bathroom more frequently as needed?

A: For someone with an overactive bladder (OAB), the bladder is often contracting, making you feel that you need to pee. In the early stages, you may have a bit of an urge, but there may also start to be a psychological element. Perhaps you were out at a social gathering and started to feel some urinary urgency, or you were out at dinner and had your first episode of incontinence. This can trigger you to become anxious and start proactively going to the bathroom more often than really necessary, to try to prevent feeling those urges. In relatively mild OAB, it is “mind over bladder,” so that you have more control.

This needs to be done gradually and gently, however; don’t try to hold your bladder for really long periods such as 4 or 5 hours. Instead, try to hold it just a bit longer than you feel like, gradually increasing to a point that seems more reasonable, such as voiding every couple hours.

Dr. Panicker mentioned three non-pharmacological treatments for overactive bladder. Here’s a list of those treatments and some sources for information about them:

This webinar was recorded and can be viewed on PMD Alliance’s YouTube page:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEL8yEfMUSo

Lauren Stroshane with Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach viewed the webinar and shared her notes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Urinary dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease – Webinar notes
Presented by PMD Alliance
June 1, 2020
Summary by Lauren Stroshane, Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach

The webinar speaker, Dr. Jalesh Panicker, is a uro-neurology specialist with the National Hospital for Neurology in London. These are notes from his talk.

There are two sets of symptoms people can experience from the bladder:

  1. Storage symptoms: urgency, frequency, nocturia, and incontinence
  2. Voiding symptoms: hesitancy, straining, interrupted stream, and double voiding

Of these two, storage symptoms are easiest to recognize. Voiding symptoms are not that straightforward and often come on quite gradually over time. An individual might not even realize they are having a problem with voiding and failing to completely empty their bladder.

An important assessment is to undergo a routine, non-invasive bladder scan, using a handheld scanner that a nurse can use to check if there is still urine left in the bladder after the person has voided (this is called post-void residual). Like stagnant water that can attract insects, stagnant urine in your bladder can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, predisposing you to urinary tract infections. Additionally, if your bladder is already holding a significant amount of urine that is just sitting there, there isn’t much volume left to hold new urine you are making. This can contribute to urinary frequency as well.

Why do people with Parkinson’s Disease experience urinary problems?

In the past 15-20 years, urinary issues are increasingly recognized as being one of the most bothersome and common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). In particular, nocturia (having to urinate several times during the night) and urinary urgency are most troubling. These symptoms tend to increase as PD progresses.

There are different causes of bladder problems, but there is a particular link between dopamine levels and bladder control. Dopamine in the frontal lobe seems to inhibit and suppress the bladder to keep it in check. When there is dopamine deficiency, this inhibition of the bladder is lifted, and one has to go to the bathroom more often. This is called overactive bladder (OAB). 

Those with PD may have other medical conditions as well that contribute to bladder problems:

  • Enlarged prostate, in men
  • Pedal edema (ankle swelling)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Medications, such as diuretics (water tablets)
  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea
  • Cervical spondylosis and myelopathy

Getting up to pee during the night is not inherently a problem; most adults over a certain age will need to get up once a night. But in PD, sometimes an individual might have to get up more than 3 or 4 times in a night, severely disrupting their sleep. Additionally, sometimes a person might wake up for other reasons – such as their levodopa wearing off and causing discomfort – then decide to use the bathroom since they’re awake anyway. This is called a convenience void. Determining what is truly triggering the person to wake up at night is an important piece of the puzzle.

Patients who record the number of times they void during the day and night, as well as the volume of urine produced, show that not only is urinary frequency occurring – they are feeling that they need to void quite often – but also that the volume of urine (called urine output) they are voiding overnight is much higher than during the day. This is called nocturnal polyuria, or producing excessive amounts of urine during the night. Ordinarily, one should produce only a third of the total urine for the day at nighttime.

If a person with PD is complaining that they have to get up to urinate several times during the night, it can be important to determine whether they are having simple urinary frequency, or whether they are experiencing nocturnal polyuria and their body is producing more urine at night, driving the repeated cycles of waking to use the bathroom.

It is important to recognize if nocturnal polyuria is present, as there can be multiple different causes: blood pressure instability during the day, which is common in PD; sleep apnea; medications such as a diuretic; cardiac issues; excessive hydration during the day; and ankle swelling.

New onset incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control, ranging from leakage when you cough or sneeze to failing to get to the toilet in time and having a significant accident. If someone starts experiencing incontinence abruptly, without prior urinary issues, the speaker starts to consider other possible causes besides their PD, which usually progresses slowly and gradually.

Other causes of new incontinence are often reversible:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): This may show distinct symptoms such as burning during urination, altered urine smell, or fever. However, in PD the individual often doesn’t notice a change despite a UTI being present.
  • Change in medications: For instance, adding an opioid medication for pain relief or a cholinesterase inhibitor used to treat cognitive changes.
  • Recent change in mobility: A fall or hip surgery could represent an alteration of normal mobility.
  • Constipation/stool impaction: This can put mechanical pressure on the urinary tract.

Assessing your bladder function

Your doctor has a number of different options for assessing your bladder. They may use a combination of the following:

  • Ask a few questions
  • Test your urine to see if an infection is present
  • Non-invasive bladder scan to see if your bladder is emptying completely when you void
  • Ask you to keep a diary at home to record:
    • When you pass urine and what volume (this can be measured with a “hat” that sits inside the toilet)
    • When you drink fluids and what volumes
  • Urodynamic tests that actually measure the urine stream in the clinic setting

General measures: Fluid intake

  • Keep a bladder diary
  • Generally recommend drinking 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day (6-8 glasses)
  • Reduce caffeine to less than 100 mg per day
  • Avoid substances that can irritate the bladder, like alcohol, citrus fruits, juices, and soda  

Bladder retraining and scheduling with timed voids can be helpful as well. Measures that improve toilet accessibility can also reduce the number of incidences of incontinence, such as installing a raised seat, grab bars, and pants that are easier to undo. A portable commode can be useful if there are mobility issues.

Pharmacologic treatment

The antimuscarinic drug family is available to help with bladder symptoms, and there is some evidence to demonstrate their safety and efficacy in those with PD. That said, they are not for everyone, and can cause side effects; it is important to have a thorough discussion with a provider who is familiar with PD in deciding which drug to try.

  • Trospium
  • Oxybutinin
  • Tolterodine
  • And others!

Another drug, Mirabegron (Myrbetriq), is a beta-3 receptor agonist and operates differently than the antimuscarinics to increase storage capacity and decrease the frequency of voiding.

Other treatment options

A relatively new but very safe and well-validated treatment for bladder dysfunction is Tibial Nerve Stimulation (TNS), in which tiny needles provide gentle electrical stimulation to a nerve that helps decrease urinary urgency, frequency, and incontinence via repeated sessions in the clinic.

Another option is clean intermittent self-catheterization, which can be a good option for some. Self-catheterization is preferable to maintain the person’s independence.

For others who are unable to perform intermittent catheterization, an indwelling catheter is needed, meaning it is surgically implanted. For those with neurologic disease who are increasingly disabled and experiencing cognitive impairment, a suprapubic catheter is typically the best option. This involves surgery to implant a permanent tube in the bladder out through the low belly.

Pelvic floor exercises done under the guidance of a specialized physical therapist and practiced on your own can help to strengthen and retrain the muscles associated with urination and defecation.

Others prefer to simply contain the urine, whether through absorbent briefs or pads. There are many products on the market.   

Main takeaways:

  • Urinary problems are common in PD
  • It can be very useful to check if the bladder is emptying completely or not
  • Treatments:
    • Check fluid intake and timing
    • Pelvic floor exercises
    • Medications: antimuscarinics, mirabegron
    • Electrical stimulation of nerves (TNS)
  • In some individuals, an indwelling catheter is helpful

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Question & Answer Session

Q: Is it better to train your bladder to hold a lot of urine, or to go to the bathroom more frequently as needed?

A: For someone with an overactive bladder (OAB), the bladder is often contracting, making you feel that you need to pee. In the early stages, you may have a bit of an urge, but there may also start to be a psychological element. Perhaps you were out at a social gathering and started to feel some urinary urgency, or you were out at dinner and had your first episode of incontinence. This can trigger you to become anxious and start proactively going to the bathroom more often than really necessary, to try to prevent feeling those urges. In relatively mild OAB, it is “mind over bladder,” so that you have more control.

This needs to be done gradually and gently, however; don’t try to hold your bladder for really long periods such as 4 or 5 hours. Instead, try to hold it just a bit longer than you feel like, gradually increasing to a point that seems more reasonable, such as voiding every couple hours.

Q: Who is the best type of provider to manage these issues in someone with PD – a neurologist, or a urologist?

A: Unfortunately, not that many people straddle these two specialists like the speaker does. Some people see both types of specialists; you can encourage them to communicate with each other and collaborate about your care.

Q: How can I tell if constipation is contributing to my urinary issues?

A: The patient’s history of how many bowel movements they report having in a given day or week is usually the best indicator. But the bladder scan also represents a good opportunity to assess if constipation may be a contributing factor. When we scan the bladder, sometimes we see a shadow over the bladder that represents a loop of full bowel. When examining the belly, we can often feel if there is a lot of stool sitting there in the intestines.

Q: The penis has become quite small and difficult to hold onto, making it challenging to aim while peeing. Do you have any insight as to why this happens and what can be done?

A: This is a retraction of the penis that can happen. Over time, if we use the penis less and the tissue does not become erect, the tissue can shrink and become sort of buried in the scrotum. For individuals have a prominent foreskin, the penis can be difficult to locate inside the foreskin as well. Not much can be done in these situations, although if someone is not circumcised, it can be an option to undergo a circumcision, which will make the head of the penis more accessible.

His colleagues in France recommend taking a Viagra a day to maintain the tissue’s ability to become erect but there isn’t clear evidence for that, and it is not something he advises specifically for that purpose. Many with PD take medication to assist with erectile dysfunction, but it is not clear whether these would help for penile retraction as well. 

If there are reasons why circumcision is not the way forward, then one could also consider an indwelling suprapubic catheter to aid with voiding.

Q: We hear a lot about men’s urinary problems but not enough about women. Can uterine prolapse cause urinary problems in women?

A: Uterine prolapse is quite common, especially in older women. It is usually quite treatable, either with a pessary (a device that is inserted into the vagina to help maintain the uterus in place so that it doesn’t fall down) or with surgery. Most women who have a prolapsed uterus are aware of heaviness or discomfort in the area. Typically, if the prolapse is addressed, any associated urinary issues should resolve as well.

What can be tricky is if someone with PD sees a urologist for these issues and maybe they have a bit of an enlarged prostate or a bit of a prolapse, the urology team may assume the patient’s symptoms are solely due to this. In reality, their PD may be contributing, and the problem may be multifactorial.

Urodynamic testing can be very useful to tease out the actual problem. This test shows us the pressures and flow of the urine throughout the urinary system, and can indicate where the specific issues are.

Q: What are your thoughts on the drug Myrbetriq (mirabegron)?

A: Myrbetriq is an exciting newer drug for urinary urgency and frequency that works differently than the antimuscarinics mentioned previously, which can cause a lot of side effects such as constipation or dry mouth. Myrbetriq is usually better tolerated by those with neurologic disorders or cognitive impairment, though it is not officially approved specifically for these groups.

It can still cause side effects, however, such as heart palpitations or increased blood pressure. If your neurologist or urologist starts you on Myrbetriq, they should tell you to monitor your blood pressure periodically for this reason.

Q: I saw that “fizzy drinks” should be avoided for someone with urinary issues. What is it about fizzy drinks that causes problems? Is it the carbonation or the caffeine?

A: We don’t know for sure. The speaker suspects it may be the caffeine or aspartame that is often added, but even individuals who just have fizzy water on its own have observed that their OAB is worse. We know that caffeine acts as a diuretic, encouraging our body to produce more urine. Cutting it out may not cure your overactive bladder, but it may significantly help.

Q: What do you think about desmopressin nasal spray?

A: Desmopressin is actually a hormone that is produced by the body that promotes reabsorption of fluid from the kidneys. When your brain secretes desmopressin, your urine production decreases. It is also available in a synthetic version via a nasal spray or a pill absorbed under the tongue.

It is mainly useful for short-term bladder control over 4-6 hours, such as overnight to avoid nocturia. During that period of time, you produce less urine and the bladder doesn’t fill as much. But the fluid has to go somewhere, and so it reenters your circulatory system. For someone who already experiences swollen ankles, has kidney disease, or has any kind of congestive cardiac disease, this can be dangerous. So it’s important if you try this medication to have a conversation about the risks with the prescribing doctor and get your sodium levels checked.

Q: Why does the urge to void increase so quickly? As soon as I think of peeing, I have to go right away! Would biofeedback help?

A: As you go about your day, you are periodically receiving messages from your bladder. Normally we detect the sensations letting us know things are filling up, and head to the bathroom. What happens in PD is that there is an overactive bladder, but also, our perception of sensations in PD is often different. Our response to those sensations may be altered too.

Practicing mindfulness and biofeedback can go a long way to relaxing the bladder and helping you be more attuned to the body’s signals and learn to control your response to the sensations. Timed voiding – such as deciding to go every 2 hours and going to the bathroom at that time whether you feel the need – can also be helpful.

Q: Are there any supplements, such as Beta-Prostate, that you recommend for bladder issues or prevention of urinary tract infections?

A: Unfortunately, there are no supplements that have been shown to help bladder issues. For UTIs, cranberry tablets and D-Mannose may be mildly helpful for preventing the development of UTIs caused by E.coli, but they cannot treat an infection once it is present. Antibiotics would be necessary. Good hydration is important as well, to help flush out the system.

Q: Regarding percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS), is that an option for someone with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) implanted?

A: As far as he knows, the main DBS manufacturers have all said that this is not a contraindication to undergoing PTNS. If you are concerned, it is best to double-check with the manufacturer of your DBS system, but the speaker believes they are all compatible.

“Oleh Hornykiewicz, Who Discovered Parkinson’s Treatment, Dies at 93” (NYT)

Austrian pharmacologist Oleh Hornykiewicz died in late May 2020. He believed in the power of research on brains of people who had died with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). He and a colleague discovered that these brains were deficient in the important neurotransmitter called dopamine. And he was among several scientists who perfected the treatment of PD with L-dopa. Today, the mainstay treatment for PD is still L-dopa. This recent New York Times article is about his breakthrough research:

www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/science/oleh-hornykiewicz-who-discovered-parkinsons-treatment-dies-at-93.html

Brain Support Network agrees in the power of examining brains of people who have died with PD and other neurological disorders as a means of finding cures for these disorders. If you’d like assistance in making brain donation arrangements for you or a loved one, check out our webpage.

Depression and Parkinson’s disease – Webinar notes

In mid-May, the Parkinson Society of British Columbia (parkinson.bc.ca) offered a webinar on depression and Parkinson’s disease (PD), featuring Dr. Fidel Vila-Rodriguez. He discussed the symptoms and treatment options for depression, as well as the state of research into depression and PD, briefly touching on experimental forms of neurostimulation to address depression.

Though the webinar focus was Parkinson’s Disease, many people with atypical parkinsonism disorders can experience depression.  So we are sharing the webinar notes here.

There was a question and answer session as well.  This was a useful question and answer:

Q: What should a person’s first step be if they suspect they have depression?

A: Talk to your primary care doctor or your neurologist as the first step. They will likely do a general evaluation to rule out other issues that might be causing your symptoms. Next, they may try you on one antidepressant medication as the first step. If that doesn’t work, often the next step is a referral to psychiatrist, who has more expertise in depression management.

This webinar was recorded and can be viewed here.

Lauren Stroshane with Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach viewed the webinar and shared her notes.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.


Depression and Parkinson’s disease – Webinar notes
Presented by the Parkinson Society of British Columbia
May 12, 2020
Summary by Lauren Stroshane, Stanford Parkinson’s Community Outreach

Dr. Fidel Vila-Rodriguez is a professor of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. He provided a brief overview of Parkinson’s disease (PD), with its classic motor symptoms. However, we have learned there are also seem to be PD sub-types; not everyone has all the symptoms and the disease presents quite variably among different people. For some, the non-motor symptoms of PD are more evident and more detrimental to quality of life. Non-motor issues also tend to be more challenging to treat than motor symptoms. Anxiety and depression are very common; sometimes psychosis or hallucinations can also arise. Autonomic dysfunction, such as abnormal sweating, constipation, urinary issues, and blood pressure instability often occur as well. The focus of this presentation was on depression, specifically.

Dr. Vila-Rodriguez discussed the symptoms of depression and how to manage them, then touched on the current research on depression and PD.

Depression in Parkinson’s disease (dPD)

Around 40 percent of people with PD experience depression at some point during the course of their illness. Depression in PD (dPD) has a significant impact on quality of life, and sometimes the depressive symptoms appear long before a diagnosis of PD has been made. We don’t yet have a way to know who has depression by itself, versus who has depression with PD starting to occur. These are areas of research currently. We do know that dPD is common, that it is at least in part a result of the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain that occurs in PD, and that it should be treated to improve the quality of life.

Recognizing dPD is a real challenge; it often goes undiagnosed due to many overlapping features with the motor symptoms of PD. There are no diagnostic tests that help psychiatrists diagnose any mental health disorder – no imaging, blood tests, or other lab tests. Aspects of PD that can easily overlap with clinical depression and make it difficult to recognize dPD include:

  • Loss of facial expression
  • Quiet speech (hypophonia)
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • Decreased concentration/memory
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Flat affect (lack of energy when expressing oneself)
  • Apathy

All of these factors make it hard to accurately diagnose whether someone with PD has depression as well. As a professional, the speaker acknowledged his own learning curve here.

Depression can also cause feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities one previously enjoyed, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide.

Additional diagnostic challenges

It can be hard to differentiate whether the individual is experiencing a primary mood disorder or a secondary one. Did the depression start on its own, early in life, making this a recurrence of an existing illness? Or did the depression show up later in life, suggesting it is a result of PD?

Is the depression a problem of adjustment or a true mood disorder? For instance, many individuals undergo a process of loss and grieving after receiving the PD diagnosis – this is not an illness, but a natural response to any kind of loss or major shift in one’s life. By contrast, a mood disorder typically results in a mood that is distorted or inconsistent with one’s circumstances and one’s daily function. It can be difficult to tease out what is a natural response to the diagnosis and what is turning into a mood disorder that should be addressed.

A good history from the patient and the family can provide a timeline of when depressive symptoms started, which is essential for trying to determine the nature of the disorder.

Treatment options for dPD

Pharmacotherapy (antidepressant medication) is often used in dPD but its effects may be more modest than in those with primary depression not related to PD. It appears that antidepressants may not work as well in dPD. Still, they are helpful for many individuals and worth trying.

Some non-pharmacologic treatments exist, as well. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has historically been a very controversial and stigmatized treatment, in part due to inaccurate movie portrayals. Today, ECT is provided non-invasively and under anesthesia. It is the most effective treatment that we have for major depression, helping depression symptoms in 80 percent of people and leading to remission in 60 percent of people, though it has not yet been studied specifically for dPD. Small currents of electricity are passed through the brain, triggering a small seizure; changes in brain chemistry after the electrical stimulation then flood the brain with dopamine. Side effects can include confusion immediately after the procedure, memory loss, and headaches or muscle pains.

Magnetic seizure therapy (MST) is an experimental treatment that is only available in clinical trials for depression, psychosis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The speaker stressed that the use of MST for dPD would be considered off-label and experimental. Using magnets instead of electricity, MST works similarly to ECT, causing a controlled seizure. The side effects can be problematic, including memory problems and headache, however, it may cause less impact on memory than ECT.

The University of British Columbia will be holding a clinical trial of MST specifically for individuals with dPD.

Main takeaways:

  • Depression is frequent in PD, beyond adjustment to the diagnosis.
  • dPD decreases quality of life and is important to treat.
  • Treatments include lifestyle interventions (he didn’t have time to address this in his talk), exercise, and antidepressant medications.
  • New treatments for dPD may include non-invasive neurostimulation therapies if medications aren’t effective.

Question & Answer Session

Q: What should a person’s first step be if they suspect they have depression?

A: Talk to your primary care doctor or your neurologist as the first step. They will likely do a general evaluation to rule out other issues that might be causing your symptoms. Next, they may try you on one antidepressant medication as the first step. If that doesn’t work, often the next step is a referral to psychiatrist, who has more expertise in depression management.

Q: How effective is exercise for dPD?

A: Exercise can be quite effective for mild to moderate depression. He doesn’t know of any studies about this specifically in the context of dPD, but he has no reason to think it wouldn’t be effective for this as well. In his experience, those of his patients who are able to exercise regularly generally fare better when combating depression. Try to be as active as possible, whether you experience depression or not!

Q: Are there antidepressants that don’t leave you sleepy during the day?

A: Excellent question. Some antidepressants are associated with daytime drowsiness and help with sleep; sometimes a strategy if the person struggles with sleep as well, is to take an antidepressant at bedtime so they sleep through most of the drowsiness. One example of this is Trazodone. Other antidepressants don’t tend to cause this as much. Talk to the prescribing provider or a psychiatrist to get advice about what might work best for you specifically.

Q: Are persons with a pre-PD history of depression, whose depression was in remission at the time of PD diagnosis, at greater risk of a new episode of depression following the diagnosis of PD?

A: That is likely the case. It doesn’t mean there is a 100 percent certainty that you will have a recurrence of your depression, but it definitely increases the risk.

Q: Does having strong religious faith help with combating dPD?

A: The network of friends that is often associated with strong faith – the community – can often be helpful. Faith can be a source of support. Those who are not religious often have other ways of finding those networks of support.