By Emma Johnston

2 min readPublished On: March 21, 2024Categories: Well-being, Mindfulness
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Anxiety and Parkinson’s Disease

Many people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) are referred to see a psychologist to assist them in managing adaptation to the changes that Parkinson’s brings, but also to manage anxiety. Anxiety can be problematic in anyone’s life but can be especially troublesome to those with Parkinson’s.

The limbic system is a complex network of structures in the brain involved in emotions, motivation, behavior, and memory. The limbic system includes several key regions such as the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and parts of the cerebral cortex. These structures work together to regulate our emotional responses and help us navigate social interactions and decision-making.

Anxiety is a common non-motor symptom experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease. It can manifest in various forms, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Use of dopaminergic medications to manage PD can result in impulse control disorder. Anxiety in PD can be attributed to both the neurodegenerative changes occurring in the brain and the psychosocial challenges associated with living with a chronic illness.

Research suggests that anxiety in Parkinson’s disease may be linked to dysfunction within the limbic system. The degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, a key area affected by Parkinson’s disease, can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the limbic system, leading to alterations in emotional processing and regulation. This means that even those who do not have a history of anxiety, can show symptoms of an anxiety disorder after PD diagnosis.

Changes in other neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which are also involved in mood regulation and anxiety, may contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms in Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, the psychological and emotional impact of coping with a chronic, progressive illness like Parkinson’s disease can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. The uncertainty surrounding the progression of the disease, changes in functional abilities, and the challenges of adjusting to a new way of life can all contribute to heightened anxiety levels.

Managing anxiety in Parkinson’s disease often requires a multifaceted approach. This may include medications targeting both motor and non-motor symptoms, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Non-pharmacological interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, and exercise, can also be beneficial in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving overall well-being.

In conclusion, while anxiety is a common and often challenging symptom in Parkinson’s disease, understanding its neurobiological underpinnings, particularly its association with the limbic system, can inform targeted interventions to effectively manage anxiety and improve the quality of life for individuals living with PD.

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