Add Parkinson’s disease to the list of health conditions that increase a person’s risk of hospitalization after contracting COVID-19, according to research from the Hartford HealthCare Chase Family Movement Disorders Center (CFMDC).

A team of researchers led by CFMDC Medical Director Dr. Joy Antonelle de Marcaida also found that patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders are more likely to have more severe outcomes than the general population if they get COVID-19, especially if they have concomitant dementia.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our work, our personal lives, our society . . .  we had questions and concerns as to how this disease specifically affects the patients we care for,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lahrmann of CFMDC, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute.

The team wondered how patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders fared against the threat of COVID-19 as compared with other people. To find out, they dug into the medical records of their patients who contracted the virus from April to June 2020.

Their research revealed that:

  • 36 CFMDC patients with a movement disorder – 22 had Parkinson’s but other diagnoses included Lewy Body Dementia, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Tourette’s Syndrome – tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Of these, 61 percent, or 22 patients, had concomitant dementia, one of the commonly known risk factors for increasing a person’s risk of severe infection. Other risk factors, which were also represented in the patients studied by the CFMDC team, include high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
  • 89 percent were over age 60. Age is also a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 infection.
  • 11 lived in an extended-care facility, yet another risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection.

“We, unfortunately, also saw an overall mortality rate of 36 percent, or 13 patients, in this group, which is lower than the mortality rate from COVID-19 in patients who have the more established risk factors for severe disease. It is still significant, however,” said Dr. Lahrmann. “Among those patients with dementia, 41 percent passed away.”

The data, Drs. deMarcaida and Lahrmann said, indicate that patients with movement disorders, with or without dementia, are at increased risk of severe bouts of COVID-19. In fact, they suggested tailoring screening questions for this group to determine if symptoms of their movement disorder – diminished cognition, confusion and/or lethargy – had worsened.

“Our study shows that movement disorders should be considered a high-risk comorbid condition, especially if the patient is above the age of 60 years of age, has a history of dementia, and lives in an extended care facility,” Dr. Lahrmann said.