Problems and possibilities: the impact of coronavirus on people with Parkinson’s
Author: Saskia MairPublished: 16 April 2020
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Two leading researchers have highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic has become a source of both “hidden sorrows” and “emerging opportunities” for Parkinson’s community
In an article published in the ‘Journal of
Parkinson’s Disease’, Dr Rick Helmich and Dr Bastiaan Bloem outlined the “less
visible – but also potentially grave” effects of the crisis for those with the
Governments and health organisations have emphasised that people with Parkinson’s are at increased risk if they contract Covid-19. But, as people around the world adjust to the drastic changes caused by life in lockdown, increased stress alongside reduced access to exercise resources could also have significant implications for those living with Parkinson’s.
Coronavirus, Parkinson’s and stress
The crisis has affected a huge number of people, and Dr
Helmich and Dr Bloem of the Radboud University Medical Centre in The
Netherlands, emphasise how rapid its repercussions have been on aspects of
everyday life: “The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly changed people’s normal
routines, and this all happened over a very short period.”
Adjusting to the sudden changes caused by the coronavirus
crisis may be even more difficult for people with Parkinson’s. Scientists have
indicated that those with the condition experience cognitive and motor
inflexibility, meaning they may find it tougher to adapt to disruptions to
There are also implications for the mental health of
people with Parkinson’s. Even in normal circumstances, psychiatric symptoms
including depression can occur in up to 40% of people with the condition. The
pandemic may increase the stress-related symptoms they experience – although
scientists have yet to establish whether chronic stress can accelerate
During this challenging time, levels of social interaction have been dramatically reduced to prevent the spread of the virus. The authors point to web resources as a way of combatting feelings of isolation, helping to “provide comfort and hope” to people living with Parkinson’s. The internet can also provide access to mindfulness platforms, which scientists have indicated can help manage depression and anxiety, and potentially improve motor symptoms.
Exercise and self-isolation
With many around the world self-isolating and social
distancing, there are far fewer opportunities for common forms of physical
exercise – including outdoor walks and dedicated group classes.
The writers suggest that this could have a negative impact
on the lives of people with Parkinson’s, as exercise has been shown to reduce
symptoms of the condition, including non-motor symptoms like insomnia and
Online initiatives may also be key to combatting this problem, as home-based fitness schemes allow participants to exercise without going outside. In fact, the increased attention on online initiatives designed to support people confined to their homes, could make these virtual classes more accessible than ever.
Hope for the future
While the Covid-19 crisis undoubtedly poses significant threats to the global Parkinson’s
community, the authors also hope it will “bring
some long-term positive outcomes for the many people living with PD worldwide”.
The circumstances prompted by the
pandemic may offer researchers insights that could help Parkinson’s
community in the future. For example, the academics suggest the
situation could accelerate the development of schemes
designed to support people with the condition: “This crisis calls for
the rapid introduction of better self-management strategies that can help
patients to better deal with the challenges of social distancing and the other
consequences of this crisis.”
Likewise, scientists may monitor the effects of the pandemic on people with Parkinson’s and take the opportunity to understand the factors which allow them to better cope with the pandemic.
We will be doing all we can to share useful information about Covid-19 with you as the situation develops – and we need your help. To share your experience or tell us the topics you want Parkinson’s Life to cover during the pandemic, please leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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