COVID-19 pandemic affected patient well-being: UK survey

Clinicians urged to help patients get social support post-pandemic

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had some negative physical and social impacts on the overall well-being of people with Parkinson’s disease, a new study highlights.

Therefore, it’s important for clinicians to help patients get social support, not just address physical symptoms of the disease as pandemic-related restrictions ease, researchers wrote in a study, “The joint impact of symptom deterioration and social factors on wellbeing for people with Parkinson’s during the covid-19 pandemic in the UK,” published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.

“Along with the restoration of health services, people with Parkinson’s may need support to regain their social activities to reduce social isolation and loneliness,” the scientists wrote. “Indeed, even outside the pandemic, focusing on the social aspects of the lives of people with Parkinson’s is important for improving their wellbeing.”

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Worsening symptoms for people with Parkinson’s

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people with Parkinson’s have experienced worsening disease symptoms, sometimes due to the virus itself and sometimes because measures like lockdowns made it harder to get needed medical care. The pandemic and associated restrictions also made it harder to engage in social activities, leading many people to experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Scientists at Lancaster University and Parkinson’s UK conducted a survey to better understand both the physical and social consequences of the pandemic for people living with Parkinson’s in the U.K.

“We were interested in the combined impact of both physical factors, such as deterioration in symptoms, and social factors, specifically social isolation and loneliness, on wellbeing,” the researchers wrote.

Well-being was defined as “a positive aspect of mental health, associated with happiness, contentment and flourishing, not simply a lack of distress.”

The survey was distributed by Parkinson’s UK in the summer of 2021. Among the 612 patients who answered the survey, the average age was about 68 years and slightly more than half were female. Most of the respondents were retired and living with a partner, and nearly all who reported their ethnicity identified as white.

The survey asked patients a variety of questions covering demographics, symptoms, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. To assess patients’ overall sense of well-being, the researchers used the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale.

With these data, the researchers constructed statistical models to examine how different factors affected well-being scores.

Results showed that demographics accounted for 4.3%-8.3% of the variation in well-being scores. Worsening physical symptoms accounted for 19.8%-23.4% of the variance in these scores. Loneliness accounted for another 13.4%-18.8% of the variance, and social isolation for 5.7%-8.1%.

Taking all these factors together, the final model explained about 47.9%-53.6% of the variance in well-being scores.

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Symptoms, loneliness, social isolation each predict worsening well-being

“Symptom deterioration, loneliness and social isolation were each independent predictors of (worse) wellbeing,” the researchers noted. They added that this finding “highlights the importance of both the deterioration in physical symptoms and the social factors of loneliness and social isolation in contributing to poorer wellbeing.”

While this analysis focused on the pandemic specifically, the researchers said the findings may have more wide-reaching applicability, since the elderly and those with chronic diseases are known to be at higher risk of social isolation even during non-pandemic times.

The scientists stressed that clinicians may be able to offer support, such as talk therapy or connections to support groups, to help patients manage these issues.

“People with Parkinson’s may need help in finding what works for their specific circumstances, to maintain social connections as their physical health declines, to help reduce loneliness and social isolation and promote wellbeing,” they wrote.