From the Journals

Palliative care improves QoL for patients with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders



After 12 months of receiving palliative care in an outpatient setting in addition to standard care, patients with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders (PDRD) had improved quality of life (QoL), compared with patients who received standard care alone, according to results from a randomized clinical trial in JAMA Neurology.

The benefits of palliative care even extended to patients’ caregivers, who also appeared to benefit from outpatient palliative care at the 12-month mark, according to lead author Benzi M. Kluger, MD, of the department of neurology, University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora, and colleagues.

Between November 2015 and September 2017, Dr. Kluger and colleagues included 210 patients into the trial from three participating academic tertiary care centers who had “moderate to high palliative care needs” as assessed by the Palliative Care Needs Assessment Tool, which the researchers said are “common reasons for referral” and “reflect a desire to meet patient-centered needs rather than disease-centered markers.” Patients were primarily non-Hispanic white men with a mean age of about 70 years. The researchers also included 175 caregivers in the trial, most of whom were women, spouses to the patients, and in their caregiver role for over 5.5 years.

Patients with PDRD were randomized to receive standard care – usual care through their primary care physician and a neurologist – or “integrated outpatient palliative care,” from a team consisting of a palliative neurologist, nurse, social worker, chaplain, and board-certified palliative medicine physician. The goal of palliative care was addressing “nonmotor symptoms, goals of care, anticipatory guidance, difficult emotions, and caregiver support,” which patients received every 3 months through an in-person outpatient visit or telemedicine.

Quality of life for patients was measured through the Quality of Life in Alzheimer’s Disease (QoL-AD) scale, and caregiver burden was assessed with the Zarit Burden Interview (ZBI-12). The researchers also measured symptom burden and other QoL measures using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale–Revised for Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Prolonged Grief Disorder questionnaire, and Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy–Spiritual Well-Being.

Overall, 87 of 105 (82.1%) of patients in the palliative care group went to all their outpatient palliative care visits, and 19 of 106 (17.9%) patients received palliative care through telemedicine. Patients in the palliative care group also attended more neurology visits (4.66 visits) than those in the standard care (3.16 visits) group.

Quality of life significantly improved for patients in the palliative care group, compared with patients receiving standard care only at 6 months (0.66 vs. –0.84; between-group difference, 1.87; 95% confidence interval, 0.47-3.27; P = .009) and at 12 months (0.68 vs. –0.42; between-group difference, 1.36; 95% CI, −0.01 to 2.73; P = .05). These results remained significant at 6 months and 12 months after researchers used multiple imputation to fill in missing data. While there was no significant difference in caregiver burden between groups at 6 months, there was a statistically significant difference at 12 months favoring the palliative care group (between-group difference, −2.60; 95% CI, −4.58 to −0.61; P = .01).

Patients receiving palliative care also had better nonmotor symptom burden, motor symptom severity, and were more likely to complete advance directives, compared with patients receiving standard care alone. “We hypothesize that motor improvements may have reflected an unanticipated benefit of our palliative care team’s general goal of encouraging activities that promoted joy, meaning, and connection,” Dr. Kluger and colleagues said. Researchers also noted that the intervention patients with greater need for palliative care tended to benefit more than patients with patients with lower palliative care needs.

“Because the palliative care intervention is time-intensive and resource-intensive, future studies should optimize triage tools and consider alternative models of care delivery, such as telemedicine or care navigators, to provide key aspects of the intervention at lower cost,” they said.

In a related editorial, Bastiaan R. Bloem, MD, PhD, from the Center of Expertise for Parkinson & Movement Disorders, at Radboud University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, and colleagues acknowledged that the study by Kluger et al. is “timely and practical” because it introduces a system for outpatient palliative care for patients with PDRD at a time when there is “growing awareness that palliative care may also benefit persons with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease.”

The study is also important because it highlights that patients at varying stages of disease, including mild disease, may benefit from an integrated outpatient palliative model, which is not usually considered when determining candidates for palliative care in other scenarios, such as in patients with cancer. Future studies are warranted to assess how palliative care models can be implemented in different disease states and health care settings, they said.

“These new studies should continue to highlight the fact that palliative care is not about terminal diseases and dying,” Dr. Bloem and colleagues concluded. “As Kluger and colleagues indicate in their important clinical trial, palliative care is about how to live well.”

Six authors reported receiving a grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which was the funding source for the study. Two authors reported receiving grants from the University Hospital Foundation during the study. One author reported receiving grants from Allergan and Merz Pharma and is a consultant for GE Pharmaceuticals and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals; another reported receiving grants from the Archstone Foundation, the California Health Care Foundation, the Cambia Health Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the Stupski Foundation, and the UniHealth Foundation. Dr. Bloem and a colleague reported their institution received a center of excellence grant from the Parkinson’s Foundation.

SOURCE: Kluger B et al. JAMA Neurol. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.4992.

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