PC agency offers advice for those living at home with Parkinson’s disease
Each year, approximately 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and with that news comes life altering decisions.
Donna Williams is a registered nurse and the administrator for the Right at Home agency, which serves Eastern Hillsborough County and Polk County.
The agency sends certified nursing assistants (CNA) and home health aides (HHA) to provide personal care for those with disorders or disabilities.
This also includes those living with Parkinson’s disease – a chronic progressive brain disorder that causes uncontrollable body movements, muscle stiffness, and trouble maintaining balance.
It is a form of dementia.
“When Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed in a loved one, early planning is important,” Williams said. “While some people with Parkinson’s will experience only minor motor disruptions, others will eventually need full-time care support.”
About 10% of her overall clientele in Plant City have Parkinson’s, she stated.
There are a number of prominent figures who have lived with, or currently live with Parkinson’s.
Actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the disease when he was 29 years old.
As years went on it began to progress to the point where it loosened his muscles, causing involuntary movements.
Professional boxer Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 42 when his speech started to slur.
However, unlike Fox, his condition left him with little to no voluntary muscle movement.
Both still needed personal care to live with the disease.
Parkinson’s is diagnosed based on a person’s health history and a physical examination, Williams said. Blood tests and other laboratory tests are only useful when ruling out other conditions.
Diagnosis is usually confirmed when a patient experiences improvement after taking medications prescribed specifically for the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Aside from medication, other treatment includes surgically implanted deep brain stimulators to improve symptoms; physical, occupational, and speech therapy; and changes in the patient’s diet and exercise.
As the disease progresses, moving into an assisted living facility is at times the best choice, Williams said.
However, there are those who prefer to remain in their home, that of a loved one, or any familiar and comfortable surroundings.
“Before making that decision, family should assess the suitability of the home,” Williams added. “Is single-story living possible? Could modifications make the home more accessible? Modifications range from simple and inexpensive – for example a raised toilet seat and handrails, to more extensive remodeling, such as enlarged doorways, a walk-in shower and safer flooring.”
As Parkinson’s progresses, patients will also need assistance with eating and drinking.
She also believes that in Plant City, most patients live not at home, but in assisted living facilities. But since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, family members have been hesitant to put their loved ones in these type of homes.
The Right at Home agency offers both home health care as well as home care.
With home health care, a patient who is released from the hospital has the option of going home or going to an assisted living facility, depending on whether the patient has someone to care for them at home. If kept at home, nurses can come by to make medical assessments for the patient and their surroundings.
With home care, CNAs and HHAs will provide more personal accommodations such as bathing, preparing meals and cleaning the home.
The duties of agency caregivers include:
• Taking the patient to and from the physician or therapist
• Picking up medication prescriptions and setting medication reminders
• Hands-on assistance in walking and transferring in and out of car, bed, chair or bathroom
• Dressing, grooming, and doing laundry
• Offer companionship and socialize
• Assisting and supervising with exercises
This assistance can relieve family from those duties so they can rest.
“When you go out to do the assessment or to visit the family to see what’s going on,” Williams said, “you see the stress [on] their faces.”
Williams understands the toll on family caregivers who do their best to provide for their loved ones with Parkinson’s, and encourages them to bring in outside caregivers for the support.