Has the pandemic had some positive effects on people with Parkinson’s disease?

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Author: Saskia MairPublished: 29 April 2021

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A new study has indicated that the conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic may have had some positive effects for people with Parkinson’s disease – and highlighted the “demands and expectation of modern life”

People with Parkinson’s disease face a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 – and studies have also indicated that the conditions created by the pandemic have impacted sleep disturbances and medication access for many of those living the condition.

But has the pandemic had any benefits for some people with Parkinson’s? A new commentary suggests this could be the case.

In a small study, 67 people with Parkinson’s in Sweden and Denmark, completed a questionnaire on health-related quality of life (HRQL), depression, apathy, anxiety and sleep – all factors that are commonly thought to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

While participants reported a worsening of symptoms including apathy, depression and anxiety, the scientists noted a “significantly better” health-related quality of life in spring 2020 compared to before the pandemic. Of the participants, 88% said they had experienced less sleep disturbance, and researchers also identified improved scores for concentration – potentially a “result of reducing interactions and life demands during isolation”.

“It is such a relief not having to ‘perform’”

Participants from Denmark were asked to describe how Covid-19 had impacted their social activities, routines and everyday lives as part of the study. Some of them noted ways that their lives had improved – including greater “simplicity” and reduced pressure.

One participant wrote: “It is such a relief not having to ‘perform’, neither to my relatives nor to my physiotherapist,” while another said: “I miss my training, my daily exercises but in a way, I feel more relaxed, and I can get in touch with my ‘disease-fellows’ anyway in our ‘virtual space’ – this aspect is the most important thing for me”.

Other participants described how the pandemic had increased feelings of loneliness and affected symptoms: “I think that my physical condition may has worsened […] now I am being more rigid and I do not have the same energy as before,” wrote one respondent.

“These findings may be valuable for the empowerment of people with Parkinson’s”

In particular, the study authors noted that the data reflected increased levels of anxiety, a common Parkinson’s symptom. They highlighted that, in patient quotes, reports of anxiety seemed to be linked to “the reconstruction of normal life and normal structures/routines”.

“Therefore, anxiety in people with Parkinson’s may not only be due to a progression of Parkinson’s disease and the pathophysiology behind. It may be a combination of environmental vulnerability due to changes, coping strategies and personality traits, factors likely to be influenced during a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.”

However, the researchers concluded that it is possible that “the immediate negative consequences of the Covid-19-period for people with Parkinson’s may not be as severe as expected”.

They wrote: “Perhaps people with Parkinson’s can gain a better HRQL with a more “mindful living” that is invoked by the reduced tempo and expectations during life in the pandemic.

“These findings may be valuable for the empowerment of people with Parkinson’s, as they indicate that some demands and expectations of modern life that we have come to view as normal may inadvertently reduce quality of life in Parkinson’s disease.”

Read the study on ‘Life with Parkinson’s Disease During the Covid-19 Pandemic’.

Read more:

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

Coronavirus vaccines: key facts for people with Parkinson’s disease

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