Treatable psychiatric symptoms common with degenerative brain disease

Potentially treatable psychiatric problems are common in patients with degenerative brain diseases affecting movement and coordination, according to a study by Johns Hopkins scientists. Up to 80 per cent of those with either Huntington's disease or degenerative diseases affecting the cerebellum also suffer from depression, impaired thinking and changes in personality, the study found.

"Traditionally, there has been this distinction between neurological and psychiatric disorders, but it is an artificial distinction," said lead author Russell L. Margolis, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Hopkins and director of the Laboratory of Genetic Neurobiology.

"Indeed, the high rate of psychiatric disorders in these patients suggests that many, if not most, can benefit from treatment, even if the course of the brain disease itself cannot be reversed. Many symptoms can be eased, and the quality of life for these patients and their families can be greatly enhanced," says Margolis.

"Our findings of high rates of psychiatric disorders in Huntington's disease confirm the results of previous studies, and we believe we've found the first well-established link between serious psychiatric disorders and the cerebellum, a region at the back of the brain densely packed with nerve cells," notes Margolis.

In the study, Margolis and his colleagues conducted detailed interviews and analyzed brain images of three groups: 31 patients with degenerative cerebellar disease, 21 patients with Huntington's disease and 29 people who had no signs of brain disease. The results, reported in the August issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that 77 per cent of patients with cerebellar disease had psychiatric disorders, and 81 per cent of Huntington's disease patients did so, rates nearly double those seen in healthy control subjects (41 per cent). Sixty-eight per cent of those with cerebellar disease suffered from mood disorders like depression, com

Contact: Trent Stockton
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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