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Phone Therapy Reduces Depression in Parkinson’s Patients

While depression is common in people with Parkinson’s disease, contributing to faster physical and mental decline, it is often overlooked and undertreated. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown promising results for treating depression in people with Parkinson’s, yet many patients don’t have access to therapists who understand Parkinson’s and can provide this evidence-based depression treatment.

But there’s good news: A new study shows that participating in cognitive behavioral therapy by telephone may be effective in reducing depression symptoms for people with Parkinson’s.

“These results are exciting because they show that specialized therapy significantly improves depression, anxiety, and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease and also that these results last for at least six months,” said study author Roseanne D. Dobkin, Ph.D., of Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “While these findings need to be replicated, they also support the promise of telemedicine to expand the reach of specialized treatment to people who live far from services or have difficulty traveling to appointments for other reasons.”

The study included 72 people with an average age of 65 who had Parkinson’s disease for an average of six years and depression for nearly three years. The majority were taking antidepressants, and many were already receiving other kinds of talk therapy, the researchers report.

For three months, half of the people took part in weekly, one-hour sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy by telephone, while also continuing their usual medical and mental health care.

The cognitive behavioral sessions focused on teaching new coping skills and thinking strategies individually tailored to each participant’s experience with Parkinson’s disease.

Additionally, their care partners, such as a spouse, another family member, or a close friend, were trained to help the person with Parkinson’s use these new skills in between sessions.

After the three months were up, participants could choose to continue the sessions up to once a month for six months.

The other half of the patients received their usual care, which, for many, included taking antidepressants and/or receiving other forms of talk therapy in their community.

At the beginning of the study, the participants had an average score of 21 on a measure of depression symptoms, where scores of 17 to 23 indicate moderate depression, according to the researchers. After three months of cognitive behavioral therapy, scores for that group fell to an average of 14, which indicates mild depression. The people receiving their usual care had no change in their scores, according to the study’s findings.

Six months after finishing the weekly cognitive behavioral sessions, those participants had maintained their improvements in mood, the researchers reported.

According to the study’s findings, 40 percent of those who engaged in cognitive behavioral therapy met the criteria for being “much improved” in their depression symptoms, while none of the people who simply continued their usual care did.

“Depression affects up to 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease and may occur intermittently throughout the course of illness,” Dobkin said. “Additionally, in many instances, depression is a more significant predictor of quality life than motor disability. So, easily accessible and effective depression treatments have the potential to greatly improve people’s lives.”

A limitation of the study was that it did not include people with very advanced Parkinson’s disease or those who also had dementia, so the results may not apply to them, the researchers noted. Also, while insurance coverage for telemedicine is growing, it is not yet available in all cases or all states.

The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Phone Therapy Reduces Depression in Parkinson’s Patients

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Phone Therapy Reduces Depression in Parkinson’s Patients. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 9 Apr 2020 (Originally: 10 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 9 Apr 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.