Summer Stavrevski

The effects of social distancing on communication effectiveness in people with Parkinson’s disease during the COVID-19 pandemic

Summer Stavrevski

Karen Hegland, PhD


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the everyday communication interactions of many, especially those with Parkinson’s Disease. Preventative measures, particularly facemasks and social distancing, have been implemented in order to contain the spread of the virus. Teletherapy has become increasingly popular in order to reduce exposure by decreasing in-person contact. The use of virtual telehealth appointments may reduce communication effectiveness for people who already have disordered speech. These precautionary strategies have the potential to affect communication abilities. 

Six months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, a survey reports the behavioral changes and response to the pandemic among individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.

A survey was conducted by distributing an online questionnaire to Parkinson’s patients. Data gathered from the survey were analyzed with UF Qualtrics software.

One hundred twenty-three individuals with PD responded to the survey. According to respondents’ answers, facemasks make it more difficult for an individual with PD to communicate with others (81.8%). Despite communication difficulties, 96.74% of respondents reported that they always or most of the time wear facemasks while out in public. Most respondents (97.6%) reported that they personally follow social distancing rules and recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic such as staying home whenever possible and staying 6 feet away from others when in public places. In order to improve communication with others, patients tend to either definitely (37.2%) or probably (36.4%) adjust their speech (for example, try to talk louder) when wearing facemasks. The majority of respondents (67.2%) have made use of online platforms to communicate with others, and most respondents reported participating in telemedicine appointments (63.9%) such as a remote, virtual visit with their neurologist or other doctor.

Precautionary measures and increased use of teletherapy have been implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 and have kept patients safe from contracting the virus. However, successful communication and continuation of speech-language therapy sessions require examination of patient perspectives in order to deliver effective services.