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Health: Local Researchers Find New Connection Between Depression & Parkinson's Disease

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- People newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease often struggle with not just depression, but anxiety and fatigue as well according to a new study conducted here in Philadelphia.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the research.

This comes just a day after it was revealed that Robin Williams had Parkinson's and was severely depressed.

The new research from Penn Medicine covered over 400 newly diagnosed Parkinson's patients.

Stahl talked to a man who knows the disease, he says, too well.

Ron Robbins needs help with everything.  Tremors and stiffness from Parkinson's Disease make simply standing or walking an ordeal.  The 73-year-old has a cane equipped with a laser light to help him focus movements.  He was diagnosed five years ago.

"It's really a devastating disease.  There are many days I don't want to get out of bed.  I don't want to move," said Ron.  He says the depression can be overwhelming, and understands why Robin Williams took his own life.  Ron says antidepressants help him cope.

"The fact that almost 50 to 60 percent of people with Parkinson's Disease have depression is largely related to the chemical changes from the underlying disease," said Dr. Nabila Dahodwala, with Penn Medicine.  She says people with the degenerative disorder are depressed because they face a grim future, but there are also neurochemical changes in the brain.  Depression can be an early warning sign of Parkinson's.

The new research from Penn found, in addition to depression, newly diagnosed patients also suffer with anxiety and fatigue.  And it says there can be surprising side effects with a common Parkinson's medication, dopamine replacement therapy.

"Changes in behavior that lead to compulsive behaviors like gambling, over spending, hypersexuality," said Dr. Dahodwala.

"Every day it's something new.  It's pain.  There's, all of these things are just, they're overwhelming," said Ron.

Ron has a deep brain stimulator that he says is very helpful.

He and his family are hoping all the attention on Parkinson's will help raise awareness and money for research.  He says there's a tremendous need for better treatments, and hopes for even a cure someday.

Parkinson's Disease Information-

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