Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Personal Networks and Neurological Outcomes of People With Multiple Sclerosis: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Case-Control Study

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2024 Feb 6:10:e45429. doi: 10.2196/45429.


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has negatively affected the social fabric.

Objective: We evaluated the associations between personal social networks and neurological function in people with multiple sclerosis (pwMS) and controls in the prepandemic and pandemic periods.

Methods: During the early pandemic (March-December 2020), 8 cohorts of pwMS and controls completed a questionnaire quantifying the structure and composition of their personal social networks, including the health behaviors of network members. Participants from 3 of the 8 cohorts had additionally completed the questionnaire before the pandemic (2017-2019). We assessed neurological function using 3 interrelated patient-reported outcomes: Patient Determined Disease Steps (PDDS), Multiple Sclerosis Rating Scale-Revised (MSRS-R), and Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Physical Function. We identified the network features associated with neurological function using paired 2-tailed t tests and covariate-adjusted regressions.

Results: In the cross-sectional analysis of the pandemic data from 1130 pwMS and 1250 controls during the pandemic, having a higher percentage of network members with a perceived negative health influence was associated with worse disability in pwMS (MSRS-R: β=2.181, 95% CI 1.082-3.279; P<.001) and poor physical function in controls (PROMIS Physical Function: β=-5.707, 95% CI -7.405 to -4.010; P<.001). In the longitudinal analysis of 230 pwMS and 136 controls, the networks of all participants contracted, given an increase in constraint (pwMS-prepandemic: mean 52.24, SD 15.81; pwMS-pandemic: mean 56.77, SD 18.91; P=.006. Controls-prepandemic: mean 48.07, SD 13.36; controls-pandemic: mean 53.99, SD 16.31; P=.001) and a decrease in network size (pwMS-prepandemic: mean 8.02, SD 5.70; pwMS-pandemic: mean 6.63, SD 4.16; P=.003. Controls-prepandemic: mean 8.18, SD 4.05; controls-pandemic: mean 6.44, SD 3.92; P<.001), effective size (pwMS-prepandemic: mean 3.30, SD 1.59; pwMS-pandemic: mean 2.90, SD 1.50; P=.007. Controls-prepandemic: mean 3.85, SD 1.56; controls-pandemic: mean 3.40, SD 1.55; P=.01), and maximum degree (pwMS-prepandemic: mean 4.78, SD 1.86; pwMS-pandemic: mean 4.32, SD 1.92; P=.01. Controls-prepandemic: mean 5.38, SD 1.94; controls-pandemic: mean 4.55, SD 2.06; P<.001). These network changes were not associated with worsening function. The percentage of kin in the networks of pwMS increased (mean 46.06%, SD 29.34% to mean 54.36%, SD 30.16%; P=.003) during the pandemic, a change that was not seen in controls.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that high perceived negative health influence in the network was associated with worse function in all participants during the pandemic. The networks of all participants became tighter knit, and the percentage of kin in the networks of pwMS increased during the pandemic. Despite these perturbations in social connections, network changes from the prepandemic to the pandemic period were not associated with worsening function in all participants, suggesting possible resilience.

Keywords: COVID-19; multiple sclerosis; neurodegenerative disease; neurology; personal networks.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Phenylenediamines*


  • 3-methyl-N,N-diethyl-p-phenylenediamine
  • Phenylenediamines