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Introduction: Social isolation impairs physical and mental health, particularly among the elderly. As Parkinson’s disease (PD) usually affects the elderly, we hypothesized that social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate non-motor symptoms of PD. This survey aimed to assess the impact of social isolation on self- or proxy-reported symptoms PD during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: The survey was distributed online between 01/06/21 and 02/27/21 among 7,109 subscribers of the Parkinson and Movement Disorders Alliance (PMD Alliance) newsletter. It was open only to people with PD (PwP) and Care Partners (CP, defined as main caregivers of PwP, and serving as proxy respondents). The survey did not identify matched PwP-CP pairs. Respondents were grouped by level of social support from outside of their household during the pandemic (decreased or maintained [i.e., the same as pre-pandemic or increased]). The results were analyzed descriptively, and Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used for pairwise comparisons across groups.

Results: 718 of 7,109 invited participants responded to the survey (response rate 10.1%). PwP (self-reports) accounted for 70.6% of respondents and CP (proxy reports) for 29.4%. Compared with maintained level of social support, decreased social support from outside of the household during the COVID-19 pandemic (58.5% of all responses) was significantly associated with increases in sadness/depression and anxiety (p<0.0001 for both comparisons). It was also associated with increased burden of several non-motor PD symptoms (decline in memory, problem solving, or communication, p=0.0009; new or worsening confusion, p<0.0001; and new or worsening delusions, p=0.018).

Conclusion: Decline in social support from outside of the household during the COVID-19 social restrictions was significantly and negatively associated with the burden of mood and non-motor symptoms of PD. These results call for increased vigilance towards non-motor symptoms in PwP experiencing social isolation and highlight the need for stronger provider focus on encouraging PwP and their CPs to build and maintain social connections. Shedding light on the effects of social isolation in general, the results can be generalized to contexts other than the COVID-19 pandemic.


Poster presented at the Brain & Behavioral Health Research Day 2022



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