Dr Indu Subramanian, a movement disorder neurologist based in Los Angeles, US, shares why social engagement is crucial for the wellbeing of people with Parkinson’s disease – and how Covid-19 has “magnified” the challenges caused by loneliness
“Humans are social creatures – and we need connection just like we need water and shelter.”
Before Covid-19 began to spread in the US, movement disorder neurologist Dr Indu Subramanian and her team were conducting research into the effect of isolation on Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The pandemic, and the worldwide social distancing mandates that followed, increased the urgency of their research paper – and the relevance of their findings.
Subramanian, who is the director of a Veterans Affairs Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Centre in Los Angeles, US, became interested in the effect of isolation after learning about the work of psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Holt-Lunstad found that loneliness can have as detrimental an impact on mortality as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day – and is also comparable with the negative effects of obesity, physical inactivity and air pollution.
“To define it, loneliness is a subjective feeling about the relationships you want and the perception of what you have – it’s this gap between them,” says Subramanian. “I started thinking about this in relation to the Parkinson’s patient population.”
As part of the research study, Subramanian and her team analysed survey results from just over 1,500 people with Parkinson’s disease. The data was gathered in collaboration with Dr Laurie Mischley, associate clinical investigator at Bastyr University Research Institute in Kenmore, US. Participants responded to a series of questions related to social satisfaction and activities, to assess how loneliness impacted symptom severity and quality of life.