Spouses Aid Doctors in Identifying Parkinson’s-Related Sex Addiction

The presence of a spouse at a doctor’s appointment can help people with Parkinson’s disease accurately report any associated symptoms of sex addiction, according to recent findings from a team of French researchers. For a number of reasons, people receiving treatment for the movement disorder Parkinson’s disease have increased risks for the onset of sex addiction, a form of behavioral addiction centered on recurring, dysfunctional participation in sexual fantasy, thought or behavior. However, affected individuals may underreport sex-related changes in thinking or behavior to their doctors. In a study published in January 2015 in the journal La Presse Medicale, researchers from two French institutions examined the impact that the presence of a spouse has on the willingness of a person with Parkinson’s disease to fully report potential indications of sex addiction.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease occurs when areas of the brain responsible for controlling muscle movement progressively lose their ability to produce a key chemical called dopamine, which is required to maintain basic muscle function. Common problems associated with a significant loss of dopamine-producing brain cells include unusual stiffness in the arms, legs or torso; muscle tremors in the face or upper or lower extremities; a reduction in overall muscle movement speed and posture-related difficulties associated with declining muscle coordination skills or body-balancing skills. Symptoms first typically appear in minor form before worsening gradually over time. Long-term problems linked to advancing Parkinson’s disease include an impaired ability to lead an independent lifestyle, an impaired ability to control basic functions such as swallowing or urinating, sleeping difficulties and damaging changes in day-to-day mental outlook. Parkinson’s disease occurs most often in older adults, although it can also appear at a relatively early age. Doctors can’t cure the disorder. However, they can slow its progression and limit its impact with medications that either increase the brain’s supply of dopamine or act as dopamine substitutes. Other possible Parkinson’s treatments include medications that alter other aspects of the brain’s chemical environment and a surgery-based approach known as deep brain stimulation.

Parkinson’s and Sex Addiction

Sex addiction apparently produces much of its damaging effect by triggering lasting changes in a brain area called the pleasure center. Like the brain areas responsible for muscle control, the pleasure center largely relies on dopamine for its normal function. Unfortunately, the same treatments that boost dopamine levels or act as dopamine substitutes in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease can also support the chemical processes in the pleasure center that set the stage for sex addiction. Effectively, this means that Parkinson’s disease treatment is sometimes accompanied by an unintended increase in addictive sexual behavior (or an increase in addictive behaviors associated with other pleasurable activities such as gambling, shopping or eating). People with Parkinson’s may also develop changes in brain tissue thickness that contribute to sex addiction or other behavioral addictions.

Can Spouses Help With Symptom Identification?

People dealing with Parkinson’s disease may deny or overlook addiction-related changes in their sexual thinking or behavior. In the study published in La Presse Medicale, researchers from France’s University of Lille Regional Hospital Center and University of Lille 2 used a small-scale project involving six Parkinson’s patients and their spouses to help determine if the presence of a spouse affects the amount of information provided about potential sex addiction symptoms associated with the disease. The researchers conducted detailed interviews with each Parkinson’s patient while his or her spouse was in the room. These interviews were specifically intended to uncover possible indications of sex addiction. The researchers concluded that the presence of a spouse increased the Parkinson’s patients’ willingness to discuss indications of sex addiction and provide details about specific problems they encountered. They also concluded that the presence of a spouse increased the quality of discussions regarding the damaging emotional states—including shame and guilt—that can accompany sex addiction. Underlying these beneficial changes was a more general willingness to communicate in an open and direct manner. The study’s authors also looked at the potential damaging effects of sex addiction-related issues on the mental health of the spouses of people with Parkinson’s disease. They concluded that spouses may develop serious mental health concerns such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, as well as suicidal behavior. Four of the six spouses enrolled in the study developed at least one of these problems.

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