Conference Coverage

Study eyes narcolepsy’s impact on patient quality of life



– Narcolepsy adversely impacts one’s health-related quality of life in a variety of ways, from elevated levels of depression to negative social stigma, results from a mixed methods study suggest.

Doug Brunk/MDedge News

Dr. Jason C. Ong

“Despite established pharmacological treatments to reduce narcolepsy symptoms, health-related quality of life remains poor,” the study’s first author, Jason C. Ong, PhD, said at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. “The impact these symptoms have on functioning, the disease burden, and psychosocial functioning in particular is very important. Psychosocial functioning is particularly poor.”

Previous research has shown that people with narcolepsy have two- to four times the rate of psychiatric comorbidities and that health-related stigma is a predictor of depression and poor functioning, said Dr. Ong, a psychologist with the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. In an effort to assess current practices for addressing the psychosocial needs of persons with narcolepsy and to identify potential strategies that could be used to develop a psychosocial intervention, he and his associates conducted a mixed methods study to examine how narcolepsy symptoms impact health-related quality of life and the appropriateness of different health-related quality of life measures for the disorder. “Our long-term goal is to see if we can use this information to help inform the feasibility of a psychosocial intervention to improve health-related quality of life,” he said.

For the study, 29 adults with an established diagnosis of narcolepsy completed online versions of the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS), the 36-item Short Form Survey (SF-36), and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS). They also participated in a focus group, which consisted of questions pertaining to quality of life for persons with narcolepsy, current practices for addressing psychosocial health of affected individuals, and suggestions for developing a psychosocial intervention. The researchers used thematic analysis to reduce the qualitative data to key themes.

Most of the study participants (93%) were female, 90% were white, their mean age was 31, and their mean time since narcolepsy diagnosis was 4.3 years. Clinically significant elevations on the PROMIS scale, defined as a t-score of greater than 60, were reported for depression (t-score of 64.8), anxiety (66.3), fatigue (68.3), and sleep impairment (66.9). Elevations in depressive symptoms were reported on the PHQ-9 (a mean of 15.79), “which corresponds to moderately severe levels,” Dr. Ong said. “The ESS was highly elevated and fit well with the scales for sleep impairment as well as fatigue on the PROMIS. Overall, there was nice congruence across these measures.”

On the SF-36, the researchers observed that there were deficits in physical and emotional aspects of role limitations, and in energy/fatigue. “One thing we did find was a significant difference in general functioning, where patients with type 1 narcolepsy were worse off than those with type 2 narcolepsy (P less than .05).”

Qualitative data from focus groups revealed several key themes, including the perception that narcolepsy is poorly understood by the public and health care providers.

“People have the perception that if you have narcolepsy, you just feel fine and then you fall asleep,” Dr. Ong said. “They don’t understand that it’s a constant thing. Negative social stigma was also common. As a result, we found a lot of negative impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy. People talked about being hesitant to tell other people about their diagnosis, feeling that they’re ashamed of having narcolepsy. They felt less capable. One person said, ‘I get tired trying to explain why I’m tired.’”

Another common theme that emerged was the challenge of optimal treatment for their narcolepsy. Most patients met with sleep doctors or clinics every 3-6 months. “They said that this was generally good for discussing medications and symptom management, but there didn’t seem to be much time to talk about psychosocial aspects,” Dr. Ong said. “That seemed to be one area of need. There was also a strong dissatisfaction with mental health providers. People talked about how their mental health provider really didn’t understand narcolepsy. It did seem to reduce rapport and the ability to trust their therapist. Some talked about the challenges of accessibility. In some cases, people said their narcolepsy symptoms created challenges with appointment attendance.”

In terms of preferences for a psychosocial intervention, respondents generally “preferred some kind of online or Internet delivery,” he said. “They prefer a team approach with a clinician who’s knowledgeable about both sleep and mental health.”

Dr. Ong acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its small sample size and the fact that it was not adequately powered to detect differences between type 1 and type 2 narcolepsy.

The study was funded by a grant from Wake Up Narcolepsy. Dr. Ong reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Ong J et al., SLEEP 2019, abstract 0624.

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