Problems and possibilities: the impact of coronavirus on people with Parkinson’s

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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 condition.

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 daily life.

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 Parkinson’s.

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 stress.

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.

Read the article ‘The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Parkinson’s Disease: Hidden Sorrows and Emerging Opportunities’ here.

How have you been affected by the coronavirus?

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

Read more:

Coronavirus and Parkinson’s: what you need to know

Parkinson’s and the pandemic: your hopes and fears this World Parkinson’s Day

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