Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

BMC Psychology




Originally published at

Funded in part by the VCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

Date of Submission

December 2015



Individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and their caregivers are at risk for emotional distress and hypercortisolism. Expressive writing is an effective complementary intervention to ameliorate the psychological and physiological effects of chronic illness. This pilot study aimed to evaluate feasibility and preliminary effectiveness of an expressive writing intervention for individuals with PD and their caregivers.


Individuals with PD (N = 27) and their caregivers (N = 14) were randomly assigned to expressive (N = 15 patients, eight caregivers) or neutral (N = 12 patients, six caregivers) writing conditions. Cortisol awakening response (CAR), non-motor functioning, quality of life, and performance on tests of cognitive functioning were assessed at baseline, immediate post, 4-month, and 10-month post intervention.


Attrition was a challenge as eight patients (29.62 %) and four caregivers (28.57 %) chose to discontinue before beginning the intervention or were lost to follow up prior to completing the intervention or the first follow up visit. Significant reduction in anxiety, marginally significant improvement in depression and caregiver burden, and significant improvements in performance on tests of learning and memory were observed, but these changes did not differ by writing condition. CAR significantly differed over time between patients and caregivers and writing conditions.


Some evidence for the feasibility and effectiveness of writing to alleviate hypercortisolism was demonstrated in a small sample of PD patients; however, relatively high attrition rates and the lack of difference between expressive and neutral writing conditions on emotional and neurocognitive outcomes suggests expressive writing procedure modifications may be needed to obtain optimal results for this population.

Trial registration, NCT02217735, Study Start Date: August 30, 2011.

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s40359-015-0101-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Keywords: Expressive writing, Salivary cortisol, Parkinson’s disease, Quality of life, Caregiver


Copyright © Cash and Lageman. 2015 Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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