Parkinson’s Linked to Higher Rates of Apathy than Depression

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative illness that can affect motor functioning, produce tremors and also lead to the development of psychological problems such as apathy, psychosis, sleep problems, anxiety and depression. “Depression is one of the most common non-motor features of PD, with average prevalence rates in cross-sectional studies in PD reaching 40% in most populations,” said Laura B. Zahodne of the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida, and lead author of a new study examining depression and apathy in people with PD. “Apathy refers to a lack of motivation and occurs in up to 60% of patients with PD. While apathy is a common symptom of depression, it can also manifest as an independent syndrome in up to 30% of patients with PD.”

Using data from 186 patients with PD, Zahodne and her colleagues evaluated the severity of apathy and depression, relative to motor impairment, at three separate points in time over 18 months. “The present study supports linear worsening of both motor and apathy symptoms over 1.5 years in moderate, medically managed PD,” said Zahodne. “In contrast, depressive symptoms evidenced both improvement and worsening over the study period.” Based on the evidence, Zahodne believes that the depression may be a result of decreased serotonin, which has been found to be a common physical expression in patients with PD. “In this study, we found that 43% of patients reported experiencing clinically significant apathy at baseline. After only 18 months, an additional 10% of patients had transitioned to experiencing clinically significant apathy,” said Zahodne. “In contrast, only 18% of patients reported experiencing clinically significant depression at baseline, and an additional 3% had transitioned after 18 months, perhaps as a result of increased use of antidepressants in the sample.” She added, “These statistics emphasize the need for empirically supported treatments for apathy in PD, for which there are none at present.”

Zahodne, L. B., Marsiske, M., Okun, M. S., Rodriguez, R. L., Malaty, I., & Bowers, D. (2011, December 5). Mood and Motor Trajectories in Parkinson’s Disease: Multivariate Latent Growth Curve Modeling. Neuropsychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025119

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Michael


    December 13th, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Wow I would think that having Parkinsons or any of those motor deterioration diseases would be terrible. It is like your mind knows everything that is going on with your body but the tremors are so uncontrollable that you can’t do anything about it. I know that having some high profile celebs with the disease pushes along the research money and makes the race for the cure or better treatments a little faster, but for those who are suffering right now you know that it can’t come fast enough.

  • Joseph


    December 14th, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    I am guessing that maybe the apathy comes from that general feeling of powerlessness. ..

  • seth


    December 15th, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    an illness that renders u in a state wherein u cannot function normally would definitely give u depression.but to see that more ppl have apathy than depression there haz to be something biological happening internally for this.

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