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Therapy by Phone Helps Parkinson's Patients Manage Depression

FRIDAY, April 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A type of talk therapy by phone may help treat depression in people with Parkinson's disease, researchers say.

Depression is common in Parkinson's disease patients. It's associated with faster physical and mental decline, but is often overlooked and undertreated.

While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown promise in easing depression in people with Parkinson's, many don't have access to therapists who understand Parkinson's.

This study, published online April 1 in the journal Neurology, assessed the effectiveness of CBT by telephone.

"These results are exciting," said study author Roseanne Dobkin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

"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," she said in a journal news release.

The study included 72 people, average age 65, who had the movement disorder 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. Half received CBT by telephone and half received usual care, which included taking antidepressants and/or receiving other forms of talk therapy in their community.

For three months, those in the CBT group received weekly, one-hour telephone sessions, while also continuing their usual medical and mental health care. The sessions focused on teaching new coping skills and thinking strategies that were individualized for each patient.

The patients' care providers -- such as a spouse, another family member or a close friend -- were trained to help the patient use these new skills in between sessions.

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

At the start of the study, patients in the study had an average score of 21 on a measure of depression symptoms where scores of 17 to 23 indicate moderate depression. After three months of CBT by phone, patients' scores fell to an average of 14 (mild depression). The usual care patients had no change in their scores.

Six months after finishing the weekly phone CBT sessions, patients maintained their improvements in mood.

Four in 10 of the phone-based CBT patients met the criteria for being "much improved" in their depression symptoms, compared with none of those who received usual care, according to the study.

"In many instances, depression is a more significant predictor of quality of life than motor disability," Dobkin said. "So easily accessible and effective depression treatments have the potential to greatly improve people's lives."

While noting these findings need to be replicated, she said they also support the promise of telemedicine to expand treatment to people who live far from services or have difficulty traveling to appointments.

More information

The Parkinson's Foundation has more on depression.

SOURCE: Neurology, news release, April 1, 2020

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