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Loneliness increases severity of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, study reveals

People with Parkinson’s disease experience worse symptoms the lonelier they get, a major study has found.

The research, published by Bastyr University, is among the first to explore the impact social connections can have on the quality of life of people living with the neurodegenerative disease.

The study also comes at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many clinically vulnerable people are forced to isolate and stop all physical interactions with friends and family members.

According to the researchers, humans are, by nature, social creatures. And this is no different for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

And while loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of depression and heart problems among the general population, very little research has been dedicated to loneliness among people with neurodegenerative diseases.

However, this new study may shed light on how social connections can improve the quality of life for someone with Parkinson’s.

To carry out the investigation, the researchers analysed the medical records and interviewed more than 1,500 people living with the disease, comparing their loneliness scores with symptom severity and quality of life.

It was found that patients who answered “yes” to the question “are you lonely?”, reported approximately 55 per cent higher Patient-Reported Outcomes in PD (PRO-PD) scores – the scale used to assess the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The study also found that lonely participants experienced a “loss of interest”, motivation, and increased anxiety and depression.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers said: “Lonely people reported greater symptom severity for all 33 symptoms measured by the PRO-PD.

“The fact that loneliness is associated with worsened quality of life is not surprising but to our knowledge, this is the first time that this link has been elucidated in a Parkinson’s disease population.”

The latest statistics suggest around one in every 37 people alive today will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in their lifetime.

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