The role of stress in Parkinson’s disease

Wednesday 3 April 2024, 10:30 am
PhD student
A. van der Heide MSc.
prof. dr. B.R. Bloem, prof. dr. A.E.M. Speckens
dr. R.C.G. Helmich

Stress plays a crucial role in Parkinson's disease. This dissertation describes both the effects of short-term and long-term stress, as well as ways to reduce negative stress. Stress exacerbates many Parkinson's symptoms, while commonly used dopamine medication then works less effectively. Sometimes, extreme stress can even “unmask” the disease. Can we utilize medication that targets the stress system? Indeed, by suppressing the stress system with propranolol, tremor (shaking), a symptom that strongly responds to stress, can be reduced.During the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of prolonged stress, such as social isolation, have been examined. This stress led to worsened Parkinson's symptoms. Pre-pandemic mental health and social support strongly predicted the degree of stress sensitivity during the pandemic, regardless of the severity of movement problems. The pandemic also increased depressive symptoms in stress-sensitive individuals with Parkinson's. Fortunately, stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness, can help individuals better cope with stressful situations and thereby alleviate symptoms.

Anouk van der Heide (1993) obtained her Master’s in Cognitive Neuroscience from the Donders Institute in 2016. In 2019 Anouk started as a research assistant in the Systems Neurology group, led by Rick Helmich. Within the group, she pursued her PhD focusing on the impact of stress on Parkinson's disease. Presently, she continues her research as a postdoctoral researcher, exploring connections between stress and inflammation, as well as the effects of a mindfulness intervention on Parkinson’s.