How Much Does Parkinson’s Disease Change Someone’s Personality?
Many Parkinson’s caregivers report seeing changes to their loved ones as the disease progresses. Some people experience more irritability. Others might see apathy. Maybe it’s just that there’s been a subtle adaptation to how they experience the world.
Since my dad’s diagnosis in 2013, I’ve definitely seen changes in him. But I wonder if it was the disease that caused them, or is time just changing my dad’s brain?
I know that I’m not the same person I was a decade ago. The way I experience my life is calmer and more calculated. So, why would it be odd that my dad has pumped the brakes in the past few years? Is it a strange occurrence that’s happening in the tissues of his brain? Or is his experience, which is certainly outwardly affected by Parkinson’s disease, causing these adaptations?
Change from deep brain stimulation
When Dad received deep brain stimulation (DBS) in 2019, we worried that not all of the changes he’d experience would be positive. After all, a surgeon was going to drill a hole in his skull. What were the chances that he would be the same person when he emerged from anesthesia? He could lose pivotal connections in his brain. He could lose pieces of who he was.
A study published in the journal Parkinson’s Disease in 2015 found that relatives of Parkinson’s patients noticed a decrease in premeditation before actions in their loved ones following DBS, which essentially means greater impulsivity. This suggests, at least according to this study, that DBS surgery could have an impact on one’s ability to plan their actions. The same study noted that the patient’s ability to control their emotions after surgery could change.
When my dad came out of surgery, he was worried. It was as if he’d been gripped by a bout of panic, and there was no pumping the brakes. He’d chosen to receive the surgery, and nothing he did now could change the outcome. He feared that it might’ve done more harm than good. He worried that his tremors would worsen, or that he’d lose even more abilities than he’d already lost. I worried that I’d lost pieces of my dad.
Over the next few months, Dad’s nerves calmed. He realized the surgery had positive effects, although they were short-term. Instead of focusing on the things we might’ve lost, we began to look at the gains. He noticed his dyskinetic symptoms had almost entirely disappeared, which is the symptom he’d asked the surgeon to target when they began meeting.
What causes personality changes?
Because the brain substantially affects our personality, changes to it can influence who we are. How one thinks, experiences emotions, and enacts certain habits can be seen as demonstrations of their personality. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, it frequently affects memory and movement, which can change how a person functions.
Many caregivers note that their loved one with Parkinson’s experiences heightened anxiety and depression throughout the course of their disease progression, and it’s possible that these feelings can contribute to personality changes. My dad has experienced changes in his anxiety levels, and I suspect there have been chapters of depression as well. But I don’t think his personality has changed because of his battles with these symptoms. He’s his same old comedic self, passing time by telling jokes and watching local wildlife.
I’m not sure he’s the same person he was before diagnosis, but I don’t know if that’s due to DBS or Parkinson’s disease. We’re all fluid. We change with the tides and adapt over time. Who is to say that the changes my dad sees are a result of his disease?
One thing I have noticed is that he doesn’t jump at the opportunity to expand his comfort zone anymore. He’s perfectly content doing the simple things he chooses to do every day. But even in this display of change, he seems to remain himself. I don’t return home wondering where the man who raised me has gone. Instead, I kick back and watch a movie with him, just like we’ve always done.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.