INTRODUCTION: While the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of many, there is a paucity of information on the impact on people with multiple sclerosis (MS). This study sought to gain insight into the impact of the current situation on people with MS and the factors that influence this .
METHODS : 324 MS patients participated in this online cross-sectional survey during the COVID-19 lockdown period . A mixed methods design was used, with quantitative information collected on MS-related factors as well as COVID-19 impact and an open-ended, qualitative response looking for reasons behind the self-reported COVID-19 impact .
RESULTS: We found that 48% of the participants reported that COVID-19 had a neutral impact on their lives and 16% reported a positive impact . However , 36% reported a negative impact, and had greater levels of MS- and non-MS-related worries, and higher levels of bother related to psychological and cognitive symptoms and fatigue than the groups reporting a neutral or positive impact . Significant predictors of this adversely affected group were age, type of MS and presence of psychological symptoms . Antidepressant medication use, time since diagnosis, gender, location, living arrangements or employment status did not predict impact . Open-ended responses explaining personal COVID-19 impact indicate that coping strategies may contribute to these findings . In particular, active, problem-focused approaches were reported by the majority of people who reported a positive impact, as well as a third of those who reported a neutral impact .
CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that younger people, those with progressive types of MS, and those with psychological symptoms are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of a COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown . Coping strategies provide further insight into these findings with those reporting active problem-focused approaches seemingly faring better than those who do not state any coping strategies . These results also have implications for understanding other like neurological conditions that share many similarities with MS and how best to direct support.