Is There a Parkinson’s Disease Personality Type?


Some common personality traits — such as ambition and rigidity — have been noted in people with Parkinson’s disease. Many experts on Parkinson’s, including spouses of those with the condition, believe that people with the condition develop certain distinctive personality traits and that these traits appear long before the onset of the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s.


What Personality Traits Are Associated With Parkinson’s?

Observers of people with Parkinson’s — even observers who lived more than 100 years ago — have reported that those suffering from Parkinson’s disease tend to be:

  • Ambitious
  • Industrious
  • Serious
  • Single-minded
  • Rigid
  • Introverted
  • Slow-tempered, and
  • Harm-avoidant

These personality traits seem to appear years before physical Parkinson’s symptoms appear, and there may be a reason for it: the loss of dopamine, a chemical made by your brain cells that helps both to regulate your physical movements and your emotional responses.

Parkinson’s and Dopamine

The brains of people with Parkinson’s disease don’t make enough dopamine. When levels of dopamine drop low enough, the physical symptoms of the condition appear. But it’s also possible that this loss of dopamine starts years before those symptoms begin, but that it has subtle effects on the personality.

Since dopamine is the brain chemical that allows you to feel energy, pleasure, and thrills, it follows that if you are low on dopamine, you may become more introverted and less willing to take risks for a thrill.

Parkinson’s Personality Traits and Medications

People with Parkinson’s tend not to smoke or to engage in other risky health behaviors until they are medicated with dopamine agonists, which are Parkinson’s disease drugs that mimic the effects of dopamine in the brain.

In some people, these drugs actually lead to another personality change: the person taking them starts to take too many risks, perhaps by gambling or engaging in unusual sexual behavior. This personality turnaround may be dramatic and even could threaten the well-being of the person with Parkinson’s and his or her family.

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of potential personality changes when starting a new drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s in Adolf Hitler

There’s speculation that Adolf Hitler may have suffered from Parkinson’s disease — by the end of his life in 1945, he had a major tremor in his left hand. At least one study suggests that Hitler’s disease and his so-called “Parkinson’s personality” may have contributed to Germany’s defeat in World War II.

In that study, a team of neurologists speculated that Hitler’s “questionable and risky decision-making and his inhumane and callous personality” both were influenced and magnified by Parkinson’s disease.

However, Hitler may have had other medical conditions that contributed to his temperament and personality — he might have suffered from bipolar disorder (in addition to, or instead of, Parkinson’s), and he may also have been a drug addict.

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