Parkinson’s Disease and COVID-19

Story by Sabiha Parveen

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common disorder affecting people over the age of 65 years. It is associated with the loss of dopamine in different parts of the brain especially the basal ganglia which is the part of the brain which assists with different movements and other important life functions such as learning and memory. It is typically associated with changes in gait (including the physical act of walking and arm movements), rigidity (or stiffness of different muscles), bradykinesia (slowness of movements), and rest tremors. Parkinson’s disease is also associated with several other changes including loss of speech volume, changes in swallowing, changes in sleep, constipation, orthostatic hypotension (sudden drop in blood pressure when changing positions), and anosmia (loss of smell). Research suggests that people with PD have typically the same lifespan as those without the condition. Research suggests that people with PD should seek intervention as soon as they notice the symptoms. Parkinson’s disease is treated by dopaminergic medications including levodopa-carbidopa (also known as Sinemet) which helps address the dopamine deficiency in individuals with PD. In most cases, the cause for PD is unknown, thereby some people also referring to the condition as idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Epidemiological research suggests that the use of well water, exposure to insecticides and pesticides, and exposure to environmental toxins may increase the risk for PD later in life.. In addition to medications, PD is managed by a combination of therapeutic management including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other alternative forms of exercises such as Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, people with any chronic illnesses or premorbid health conditions such as PD will be considered to be a high-risk group. However, it is important to remember that individuals with PD do have an intact immune system and very much comparable to those without PD. 

Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses that often cause the common cold. COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus that can either affect the upper respiratory tract or the lower respiratory tract or both in humans. Symptoms in the upper respiratory tract (Including runny nose or sneezing) have been reported to be milder and reported so far more frequently in younger age groups. In contrast, the symptoms associated with the lower respiratory tract can sometimes become more severe and cause pneumonia and respiratory failure. Individuals with PD are more at risk of developing pneumonia and infections. Thus, it is important to take precautions and avoid any high-risk situations.  Although there is currently no known vaccine for COVID-19, it is helpful to get the flu shot and pneumonia vaccinations whenever possible to avoid any flu or related infections.

Stillwater is home to a variety of useful resources for individuals with PD and their families. These include the Senior Center, Stillwater YMCA, Total Health, and the Stillwater CANe (Communication, Arts, Nutrition, Exercise) program facilitated by faculty members of Oklahoma State University. Different exercise and physical fitness programs are available at all of these organizations to cope and manage some of the PD-related symptoms effectively. Stillwater also has a monthly support group for individuals with PD and their families, which meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Stillwater Public Library. In conclusion, it is important to utilize the different programs available in the Stillwater community to maintain the safety and independence of individuals with PD for as long as possible. Additionally, it is important to contact the primary care physician and the neurologist anytime there are significant changes in the functioning and status of the individual with PD so that they can make appropriate recommendations and further referrals.

About Aging Advocates

Aging Advocates, a group of area businesses and agencies in the Payne County area meet monthly to advocate for older adults. From their experiences, they innovate ideas and raise awareness of older adult issues. It is important to look at the developing needs of the aging population and support, educate, and identify services valuable to a life fully lived.

About the Author Sabiha Parveen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Oklahoma State University. She is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and works with individuals with PD as part of her primary research interest. She leads the Stillwater CANe Project as well as the Stillwater PD support group. For any information regarding PD-related resources within the Stillwater community, please feel free to contact her at [email protected] or call her at 405-744-5116.