COVID-19’s Effects on Parkinson’s Disease

Not much is known about the novel coronavirus; medical professionals are working to learn more every day. One of those things we are trying to understand is how this virus interacts with preexisting conditions. A survey conducted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation aims to comprehend how COVID-19 impacts those with Parkinson’s disease.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is characterized by its effect on movement through five different stages. As the disease progresses, severity increases.

  • Stage one is characterized by subtle tremors on one side of the body.
  • In stage two symptoms are more noticeable, with tremors and rigidity on both sides of the body.
  • Stage three brings loss of balance and slow movement.
  • Stage four makes it impossible for one to live independently.
  • Stage five is the most severe, as patients cannot stand or walk. Hallucinations and delusions are common symptoms of this stage.

Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the death of motor neurons, some of which produce dopamine. Dopamine is important in the transmittance of messages to the muscles from the brain, so the loss of dopamine results in the loss of motor functions. Abnormal brain activity occurs when these neurons are lost. Doctors do not know why these motor neurons die, but they do suspect a few factors that play a role, such as genetics, environmental factors like toxins, and Lewy bodies.

About the Survey

Titled the Fox Insight Study, this survey allowed Parkinson’s patients and healthy individuals to self report their experiences completely online. 7,209 people participated in the survey between April 23 and May 23, and 77 reported that they had been diagnosed with COVID-19. 51 of those people also had Parkinson’s.

Of those who had been diagnosed with both Parkinson’s and COVID-19, 55% saw their motor symptoms worsen and a similar percentage saw their non-motor symptoms worsen. One patient spoke of his fear; he had no clue how the virus would impact him and no research could tell him.

Along with the symptoms themselves, the survey also gave a better understanding of how the pandemic affected health care, living with a chronic disease, and living with a chronic disease as a person of color. 62% of respondents cancelled appointments, saw a reduction of their in-home care, and had trouble getting their necessary medications. People of color and lower income reported issues with getting their medications as well. Those living with a lower income also reported that it was difficult for them to attend telemedicine appointments.

This survey will remain open for those who wish to take it, and those who were among the first respondents will take the survey again. This will allow medical professionals to understand the long-term implications of COVID-19 and Parkinson’s. Hopefully all of this data will allow for better treatments and a better understanding.

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