Ask the expert: Are online innovations the future of Parkinson’s treatment?

Special reports

Author: Sophie BatesPublished: 14 May 2020

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In the latest in our Ask the Expert series, we speak with neurologist Joaquim Ferreira, about the importance of online resources for people with Parkinson’s during the Covid-19 pandemic and how the crisis has led to new forms of clinical communication


Could you tell us how online therapies for people with Parkinson’s are evolving?

Parkinson’s is complex in its clinical presentation – symptoms vary and the condition is not easy to understand, even by healthcare professionals. We are learning that simple aspects regarding the way the diagnosis is made and communicated have prognostic implications, so educating the Parkinson’s community is extremely important.

New healthcare concepts of multidisciplinary and home or community-based interventions are being evaluated in an attempt to define the best way of combining different therapeutic interventions. These new healthcare models include education components and should be addressed in the same way as other health conditions. Likewise, the use of web-based interventions appears as an efficient way to target and hopefully benefit many people with Parkinson’s.

Why is accessing online information about Parkinson’s particularly important during the Covid-19 crisis?

Parkinson’s is a condition that needs continuous follow-up and management, so it’s critical to maintain care and monitoring even when we cannot access clinics in the same way. Keeping up therapeutic programmes is very important to avoid losing the benefits. We have been learning that non-pharmacological treatments – for instance, physiotherapy and speech therapy, have a duration of effect like any drug, so once they are stopped, the effects start to disappear. In the same way that we should not stop taking anti-parkinsonian medication (like drugs that release dopamine or mimic the action of dopamine) without professional advice, therapeutic treatments shouldn’t be stopped.

What role can other online resources play for people with Parkinson’s during the crisis? 

The available resources are not enough for the mission we have. Not everything during the pandemic has been negative – this period has forced us to discover new ways that we can be involved in the care of individuals. The use of online tools has allowed us to perform consultations and therapeutic sessions – and we have been able to conclude surprisingly quickly that these tools work.

In terms of the future, online resources will allow a better documentation of what happens in the daily routines of people with Parkinson’s. Physicians will be able to access the real data of individuals from the information collected during face-to-face consultations, which will mean a ‘closer’ follow up – merging outpatient consultations with online interventions and support. So, in my opinion, online visits and sessions are here to stay.

Joaquim Ferreira, neurologist and founder of CNS

You are the founder of neurological disorders centre Campus Neurológico Sénior (CNS). Could you tell us about the CNS Academy videos and how they benefit people with Parkinson’s?

The main purpose of CNS is to reunite quality clinical activity, leading research projects and training health professionals. The CNS Academy videos present the great work being done by our professionals and highlight our perception that there’s still a huge need for simple and high-quality information for everyone with Parkinson’s. We created these videos because we felt compelled to share the expertise of our dedicated and highly trained professionals – so that others can benefit from their knowledge.

The topics – which were suggested by healthcare professionals working at CNS – try to cover the most frequent and relevant problems that can be addressed by cartoons. They include educational videos on how to manage medication, home safety, how to help the caregiver, speech problems, gait problems etc. The videos’ objective is not just to propose simple tips, but to promote the increase of physical and cognitive training at home, to complement all other interventions applied by professionals in clinics.

How can people ensure that the information they find online about Parkinson’s is accurate and up to date? 

It can be extremely difficult to differentiate between high quality data and misinformation. The easiest and most effective way to filter the good from bad is to always favour information published through associations – for instance, the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EPDA)Parkinson’s Foundation, or organisations with scientific boards validating their content.

It’s important to be cautious when reading news that presents amazing or almost miraculous treatments. We all hope that in the near future we will have huge therapeutic achievements to share – but they will be presented through publications in scientific journals, scientific societies or congresses, and not posted on the web by people who do not have a solid scientific curriculum. 

This difficult period reinforces the need for a close and fruitful collaboration between all. It clarifies the need to be humble when dealing with our health and the uncertainties we still have in many fields of knowledge. These strange and unexpected times will end soon, and we should learn from them.

Need to know

Joaquim Ferreira is a neurologist based in Lisbon, Portugal. He has worked in the field of movement disorders and Parkinson’s for the past 25 years and is a professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at the University of Lisbon. He is also the founder of Campus Neurológico Sénior (CNS) in Portugal, a neurological disorders centre that focuses on multidisciplinary care for people with Parkinson’s. 

For more advice on living well with Parkinson’s, please visit the EPDA website.


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