assisted living communities aid those with Parkinson'sParkinson's Disease is a condition that affects many seniors, yet it is talked about far less often than Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. No two people experience Parkinson's precisely the same way, yet there are some commonalities. Parkinson's affects about one million people in the United States and 10 million worldwide. It's a condition we frequently see in Assisted Living Communities like Regency Senior Living.

The brain disorder causes a gradual loss of muscle control. Distinctive signs of the disease include tremors, stiffness, slowed body movements, and poor balance. Actor Michael J. Fox and boxer Muhammad Ali developed Parkinson's early in life, at ages 30 and 42 respectively. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone with Parkinson's has a tremor like these celebrities giving a face to the disease.

The symptoms of Parkinson's tend to be mild at first and can sometimes be overlooked as they develop slowly over about 20 years, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The symptoms may not be apparent for a while. Experts say the life expectancy for those with Parkinson's is about the same as those without the condition.

Some early signs of Parkinson's can be confused with other conditions. These include a rhythmic shaking of fingers or hands while in use, along with stiffness, difficulty getting out of a chair, stooped posture, or a frozen expression on the face. Slowed movement or suddenly freezing in place can also be a sign of the impairment, although usually in the advanced stages. Doctors use these progressive stages to determine the best treatment.
A change in handwriting may be a sign of Parkinson's disease called Micrographia. Writing can naturally change as you get older due to stiff hands or fingers or poor vision impacting your ability to hold a pen and see well.

"If you seem to have more trouble smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson's," advises the Parkinson's Foundation website. "Have you been told that you have a serious, depressed or mad look on your face, even when you are not in a bad mood? This is often called facial masking."

All seniors can be affected by balance problems that pose the risk of falling, but this is especially true for someone with Parkinson's, which develops as a stooped posture with drooping shoulders. The rigidity of muscles is another sign of Parkinson's and one of the things that doctors examine. He or she may refer you to a neurologist, along with an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech therapist.

It's essential that someone who has Parkinson's live in an environment where things they can trip on, such as rugs or cords, are removed and grab bars help with mobility in the bathroom. For these reasons, an Assisted Living environment can be a good match for a person with Parkinson's who needs help with simple tasks as motor skills decline.

Beyond the more obvious physical symptoms, people with Parkinson's may sometimes experience difficulty swallowing, confusion and memory problems, restless sleep, daytime fatigue, slurred speech, constipation, oily skin, and dandruff. Mood changes in the form of anxiety and depression also make things more challenging for those with Parkinson's, as well as their caregivers.

A diagnosis from a medical professional can determine whether tremors are from Parkinson's or another condition. A more common source of shaking known as "essential tremor" is distinguished from Parkinson's by getting worse when a hand is in motion, as opposed to stationary.
Experts from the National Parkinson Foundation say the average person with Parkinson's gets the condition at age 62. Males and those with a family history are more likely to have it. Parkinson's occurs when part of the brain stem stops making a chemical called dopamine that helps nerve cells communicate. The disruption causes a failure of the brain to control movement usually.

A drug called Levodopa has been used since the 1970s to treat Parkinson's. Side effects of the drug after long-term use include nausea, drowsiness, hallucinations, paranoia, vomiting, and involuntary movements. Other medications can mimic dopamine. Regular monitoring of the liver may be needed, as well as avoidance of certain antidepressants. In extreme cases, electrodes may be surgically implanted in the brain or radio-frequency energy used to destroy parts of the brain stem associated with tremors, rigidity or bradykinesia.

As with many conditions, a well-balanced diet can positively impact the condition. Calcium and vitamin D help with bone strength while high-fiber meals alleviate constipation. Researchers continue to investigate possible supplements or substances to protect the neurons damaged by Parkinson's.
Exercise also helps to ease the condition by allowing the brain to use dopamine more efficiently, plus getting more exercise improves coordination and balance. The treatment for Parkinson's depends on managing the specific symptoms that manifest since there is no single magic pill to cover everything at this time.

Assisting living communities staffed with compassionate caregivers and grab bars to prevent falls can make life easier and preserve more independence for those living with Parkinson's disease.

To learn more about Parkinson's, visit http://parkinson.org/ To learn more about Regency Senior Living, call (615) 598-0245.

Written by Steven Stiefel

Copyright: vampy1 / 123RF Stock Photo

Published in Retirement Communities

Chattanooga dementia care activitiesReminiscence can be a powerful tool for some people experiencing dementia, but sometimes it can feel frustratingly out of reach. When you can’t quite connect the dots between faces, names, and your own experiences, it can feel isolating, confusing, and embarrassing. Sometimes in our quest to help our loved ones, we accidentally put too much emphasis on helping them be the person they once were, instead of honoring who they are today, Alzheimer’s and all. Fortunately there’s another technique to try— storytelling. It engages the brain in similar ways, and helps seniors socialize and express themselves in ways similar to reminiscence, without the pressure of relying on memory to share.

Alzheimer’s patients can find an outlet for communication in creativity.

Creativity of all kinds can provide an outlet to share thoughts and feelings, to explore the self and relationships with others, and find context for a variety of roles and experiences. It’s a great way to share with friends and neighbors at a retirement home or memory care facility. Storytelling can be fairly traditional, like coming up with a narrative based on a written prompt or image, kind of like the old campfire game where everyone adds a sentence to the story in turn. Or it can look like dance, painting, drawing, or other visual, creative expressions.

One study out of Northwestern University has even found success with engaging seniors in improv comedy. In improv, actors don’t have to memorize lines, but instead get to perform extemporaneously based on simple rules of the game and the power of suggestion. Ann Basting, a gerontologist who developed a creative protocol for those with dementia called TimeSlips, noted that, "Theater is an especially powerful medium of expression for people with Alzheimer's, because it enables them to stand up in front of an audience and tell the people, both who care for them and who love them, how they feel.”

That can be challenging for patients, who might have trouble finding the words they need or the context for the disorienting experience of wandering off, forgetting who people are, or losing everyday objects. But focusing on the present can be hugely therapeutic, and help bridge the gap between a senior with dementia and his or her caregivers, whether they are family or neighbors and staff at an assisted living community.  "It's about making it up in the moment, not about remembering the chronology of a life,” said Basting of the benefits of creativity over reminiscence. 

Living in the moment is one of the things that keeps us young and connects us to one another. Studies have shown that everyone cab benefit from these creative exercises! Imagination and creativity aren't just for patients with dementia, but can be shared by those of all ages, tapping into what makes us most human. After all, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a loved one happy, laughing, dreaming, and sharing pieces of themselves? 

Written by: Meghan O’Dea

Published in Retirement Communities