Coronavirus and Parkinson’s: experts answer the big questions

Global update

Author: Caithlin NgPublished: 26 March 2020

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From dealing with social isolation to deciding whether nursing homes are safe during the global coronavirus pandemic – we share the key takeaways from a Facebook Live event organised by US charity Parkinson’s Foundation’s – ‘Ask the Experts: Coronavirus and Parkinson’s’

People with Parkinson’s are considered to be at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus (Covid-19). In a recent Facebook Live event by Parkinson’s Foundation, ‘Ask the Experts: Coronavirus and Parkinson’s’, two scientists shared essential advice with Parkinson’s community about the precautions they should take.

We highlight five key takeaways from Dr Michael Okun, national medical director of Parkinson’s Foundation and chair of neurology at the University of Florida, US, and Dr Frederick Southwick, professor of medicine and former chief of infectious diseases at the University of Florida, US.

1. Should people with Parkinson’s socially isolate themselves?

Yes, they should. Strict social distancing may seem “draconian”, Dr Southwick said, but “is the only way to save lives”. Pointing to the effectiveness of China’s quarantine, he explained that the country’s rate of infections flattened after the measure was introduced. High-risk groups like Parkinson’s patients must be especially mindful of social distancing.

“You don’t want to panic, but a little fear of infectious diseases is a good thing,” he explained. “People who go out are endangering family members with Parkinson’s. The solution for people with Parkinson’s, unfortunately, is to stay away from everybody.”

“Parkinson’s Foundation is recommending that we stay at home and limit visitors,” added Dr Okun.

2. Are nursing homes and rehab facilities safe to visit at this time?

Avoid visiting nursing homes and rehab facilities as far as possible. “If you can get out of these facilities, you are probably safer at home where you can control the environment,” Dr Southwick said. If it cannot be helped, he advised patients to “watch the infection, call and ask the people in charge there whether they are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”

Amongst other things, watch out for the frequency with which workers wash their hands and the limits on visitors.

However, Doctor Okun advised against rushing to remove people from residential care: “Talk it over with your doctor and think about the risks and benefits. Do you have the right equipment, gear and medicine? You may actually make them less safe rather than more safe.”

3. How can I look after my mental health when self-isolating?

Dr Okun highlighted the importance of communicating with others while isolating at home: “Just reach out – I can’t tell you how awesome the power of social interaction is in calming people down in a crisis.”

Dr Southwick offered some practical ways of coping with ‘cabin fever’: “You can go out and walk in the woods, or to a park if you’re far away from others.” He said pets could be very helpful for anyone social distancing.

“There is no evidence that pets can carry the virus, so it can be very soothing to have a cat or a dog.”

4. Should I visit my doctor at the moment?

Unless it’s an urgent situation, you should reschedule any appointments. Dr Okun suggests preparing a three-month supply of medication, and collecting it using a ‘drive-through’ pharmacy service. Dr Southwick added that tele-medicine can be a great way of communicating with doctors.

“You really do not need to have the physicians next to you making the decision. We have electronic records, FaceTime and Zoom. There are a lot of smart tools now that allow you to get virtual care.”

Dr Okun said that any patients with severe problems should phone before visiting a doctor’s office to give staff time to prepare, and that anyone heading to an emergency room with a cough, fever or respiratory infection symptoms should call beforehand to allow them to arrange isolation.

5. Should I wear a mask to stop myself being infected?

Although many people have rushed to buy face masks, Dr Southwick suggested that this may actually be unhelpful in the long run: “A mask mostly protects you from spreading something to somebody else, but if you aren’t infected, you adjust the mask and touch your face so you may actually have a higher likelihood of infection.”

Dr Southwick added that the large numbers of people buying up stock posed a significant problem for healthcare organisations.

“In healthcare, where we’re in high likelihood of coming in contact, yes, we need the masks.” He added that if the public “hoards all the masks” healthcare providers won’t be able to access them.

Watch the full webinar here:

For up-to-date information about Covid-19 please get in touch with your healthcare authorities and check updates provided by reliable Parkinson’s organisations.

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:

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