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MARCH 2016

VOL. 19 – NO.1

ISSN 1177-0635

The importance of social support Social support means having friends and other people, including family, to turn to in times of need.

THE ROLE OF SOCIAL SUPPORT Social support reduces stress, improves physical health and helps us live longer. But what does social support mean and how can it be improved? You may be alone, but not lonely. Or, you may be with other people and still feel isolated. In some cases, people appear to have a large group of “friends” but in reality, the majority are only acquaintances and don’t provide the social support we all need. You may find emotional support through family and friends, pets, a strong faith, or involvement in supporting a cause or sports team. Caring for someone else may provide you with welcome emotional support, of the mutual kind. A very good definition of social support was offered by esteemed US psychiatrist Sidney Cobb. Dr Cobb said social support is the “individual belief that one is cared for and loved, esteemed and valued, and belongs to a network of communication and mutual obligations.”

BENEFITS A great number of studies underpin the importance of social support in reducing stress and providing other health benefits, but only a few can be mentioned here. One theory is that adequate social support is directly related to positive physical and mental health for us all. Another theory is that social support acts as a buffer between stressful life events and symptoms. Recent studies have shown that social support is vital in maintaining good health and that socially isolated people get sick more often and have a more difficult time recovering from an illness. This is because our immune system is influenced by stress. Stress compromises our immune system and makes us more susceptible to infectious diseases. Laboratory evidence has demonstrated that when people are exposed to stress, emotional support reduces the rise of blood pressure and the increased secretion of damaging stress related hormones. One of the first studies of social support and its relationship to physical disease found that heart disease was directly related to stressful events and that emotional support was beneficial in the course of the disease. Social support has

been shown to be important in the prevention of tuberculosis and asthma. Other studies have shown that social support predicts depression in elderly people. Although people with Parkinson’s may be more likely to experience depression, a recent study from China showed that social support may play a role in moderating the degree of depression in people with Parkinson’s. Another study published in 2014 in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation found that older people with Parkinson’s who had little social support, especially from friends, were more likely to experience depression. Social support is at least as important for partners and caregivers. Other studies have shown that the need for social support differs over time and increases according to age. The beneficial effects of social support on people with Parkinson’s is a rarely investigated topic, however studies have shown that it boosts immune system function in AIDS and HIV-positive patients. Further investigation on the effects of social support on quality of life in people with Parkinson’s would be a logical next step for improving the care of people with Parkinson’s.

SOCIAL SUPPORT FOR PEOPLE WITH PARKINSON’S Stress and chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s are interrelated. Stress comes from daily life tasks, events, problems, fatigue, anxiety and frustration with having to deal with the limitations and life adjustments that Parkinson’s often imposes. The main thing to be aware of is that stress can worsen motor symptoms such as tremor. For that reason it is important to focus on stress management in your daily life. A person with Parkinson’s increasing dependence on help from others can be a source of stress. Feeling isolated can make you feel alienated. A person may feel as if they want contact with other people and want to be left alone at the same time. These feelings can result in a sense of loneliness. Research has shown that lonely people are more likely to be depressed, have fewer positive social interactions, and report higher levels of distress. Social support may play an important part in coping with how to live with Parkinson’s.


10963 parkinsonian vol19 iss1  
10963 parkinsonian vol19 iss1