Neurodegeneration Complicates Psychiatric Care in Parkinson's

Heidi Splete

June 21, 2021

Managing depression and anxiety in Parkinson's disease should start with a review of medications and involve multidisciplinary care, according to a recent summary of evidence.

"Depression and anxiety have a complex relationship with the disease and while the exact mechanism for this association is unknown, both disturbances occur with increased prevalence across the disease course and when present earlier in life, increase the risk of PD by about twofold," wrote Gregory M. Pontone, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and colleagues in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Randomized trials to guide treatment of anxiety and depression in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) are limited, the researchers noted. However, data from a longitudinal study showed that PD patients whose depression remitted spontaneously or responded to treatment were able to attain a level of function similar to that of never-depressed PD patients, Pontone and colleagues said.

The researchers offered a pair of treatment algorithms to help guide clinicians in managing depression and anxiety in PD. However, a caveat to keep in mind is that "the benefit of antidepressant medications, used for depression or anxiety, can be confounded when motor symptoms are not optimally treated," the researchers emphasized.

For depression, the researchers advised starting with some lab work; "at a minimum we suggest checking a complete blood count, metabolic panel, TSH, B12, and folate," they noted. They recommended an antidepressant, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or both, as a first-line treatment, such as monotherapy with selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They advised titrating the chosen monotherapy to a minimum effective dose over a 2- to 3-week period to assess response.

"We recommend continuing antidepressant therapy for at least 1 year based on literature in non-PD populations and anecdotal clinical experience. At 1 year, if not in remission, consider continuing treatment or augmenting to improve response," the researchers said.

Based on the current DSM-5 criteria, up to one-third of PD patients have an unspecified anxiety disorder, the researchers said, and they recommended using anxiety rating scales to diagnose anxiety in PD. "Given the high prevalence of atypical anxiety syndromes in PD and their potential association with both motor and nonmotor symptoms of the disease, working with the neurologist to achieve optimal control of PD is an essential first step to alleviating anxiety," they emphasized.

The researchers also advised addressing comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, hyperthyroidism, and lung disease, all of which can be associated with anxiety. Once comorbidities are addressed, they advised caution given the lack of evidence for efficacy of both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic anxiety treatments for PD patients. However, first-tier treatment for anxiety could include monotherapy with serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, they said.

PD patients with depression and anxiety also may benefit from nonpharmacologic interventions, including exercise, mindfulness, relaxation therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy the researchers said.

Although the algorithm may not differ significantly from current treatment protocols, it highlights aspects unique to PD patients, the researchers said. In particular, the algorithm shows "that interventions used for motor symptoms, for example, dopamine agonists, may be especially potent for mood in the PD population and that augmentation strategies, such as antipsychotics and lithium, may not be well tolerated given their outsized risk of adverse events in PD," they said.

"While an article of this kind cannot hope to address the gap in knowledge on comparative efficacy between interventions, it can guide readers on the best strategies for implementation and risk mitigation in PD — essentially focusing more on effectiveness," they concluded.

The study received no outside funding. Pontone disclosed serving as a consultant for Acadia Pharmaceuticals and Concert Pharmaceuticals.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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