Purpose: A Powerful Tool Against Hopelessness: By Dr. De Leon

In the last few weeks everyone has been talking more openly about depression in living with Parkinson’s from being the patient to being the care partner or care giver every one is impacted by this disease albeit in different ways. Finding ways to cope with the hopelessness that invariably arises in all of us is one of the biggest challenges we must face.
How do we do this?
To start, as I described in my book the ‘Parkinson’s Diva’ there are 4 main keys to finding and achieving happiness. The biggest determinant of a happy, full life with a good quality of life despite chronic illness is having a PURPOSE in life.
In a recent publication in ‘Practical Neurology,’ it revealed that there is a direct link between valuing life and post mortem changes found in the brain. Those that had a purpose while alive had a 50% reduction in macroscopic brain infarcts. This confirms what I discussed as my 3rd point to happiness is living for others. Life is NOT all about us!
John Gardner said it best when he quipped that “when people are serving, life is no longer meaningless.”  We are then less likely to be dragged down to the abyss when we are involved in the giving instead of receiving.
When you have a purpose although you may still have episodes of depression or sadness because life stressors never stop coming but if you learn to change your attitude and your mind towards the things that make you down even though the situation does not change you will be different and even sleep better.  We know that a lot of us with PD have sleep deficits which only serve to reinforce the exhaustion, fatigue and depression we feel. However, another study found that having a strong sense of purpose in life reduced sleep disturbances by 16% and lessen the risk of mortality by 57%. Some believe that this improvement in sleep is due to decreased stress that comes by achieving and setting small meaningful goals. So start small with what makes you happy!
This idea of purposeful therapy was also introduced by Dr. R.D. Dobkin, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Rutgers -Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
She recommends that we RETHINK the Big Picture!

This means:

Catch the negative thoughts & don’t dwell on them -feeding them

Press Pause





Increase meaningful and social interactions to replace these thought- i.e. find PURPOSE

  • Do Volunteer work (become Pair advocate, join a research study, be a mentor)
  • Increase time with those that matter- your spouse, family, children, grandchildren
  • Get a Hobby/ find your Passion- painting, writing, photography, cooking, decorating, teaching, etc.
  • Find time for spiritual health- join a church, a bible study, a prayer group, etc.

Purpose can be a powerful therapy and tool which can clearly lead to much improvement in quality of life by lessening our daily burdens and struggles in living with Parkinson’s. Not only will it help us but others around us as well. The challenge remains in finding the one thing that fills our lives with joy and give us meaning and a reason to get out of bed every day.

For me my daughter and family are one important reason to continue fighting, another one is faith in God that everything happens for a reason so I know did not spend all these years in medical school and training learning about PD just to give up when the going gets tough. One approach is setting goals- short term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Each no matter how small or trivial will serve to boost your confidence and release natural occurring hormones like dopamine- which we need desperately- every time a goal is reached. The fun of life is enjoying small victories along the way!!!


Fotuhi, M and Mehr S. (September 2015): “The science Behind the Powerful benefits of Having a Purpose.” Practical Neurology. 14(7).32-33.

Dobkin, R. “The psychological and Emotional landscape of Parkinson’s Disease.” power point presentation at Women & Parkinson’s Initiative, September 18, 2015.

De Leon, M. (June 2015) “Chapter15: Four keys to unlocking Happiness in the midst of PD.”  Parkinson’s Diva: A Woman’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease.


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