Kyle Rasmus headshot
Kyle Rasmus

As the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease (PD) poses a significant challenge for the healthcare community, affecting almost 1 million individuals in the United States and projected to increase to 1.2 million by 2030.

Senior living executives and industry professionals can play a crucial role in supporting individuals living with this challenging condition by recognizing the importance of personalized wellness plans tailored to each individual’s needs and preferences. The approach for holistic wellness must encompass physical, emotional, social, and cognitive aspects of care in order to address the multifaceted aspects of the disease.

For many years, The Virginian collaborated with the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area, or PFCNA, to offer specialized movement classes for people with Parkinson’s. Those classes, led by members of our fitness team, certified in LSVT BIG and LSVT LOUD therapy, PWR!Moves (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery) and other functional movement programs, were instrumental in fostering physical well-being and building a sense of community among participants.

As the number of individuals living with Parkinson’s inquiring about our services at The Virginian grew, we recognized the importance of addressing the diverse needs of this population. With the addition of a new position of health and wellness navigator to assist residents in managing the complexities of health services, coupled with our new spaces created during our recent renovation, the timing was ideal to develop a more robust program that addresses the multifaceted needs of individuals living with Parkinson’s.

We launched Stronger Together: Parkinson’s Wellness at the Virginian, a program that takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to well-being, emphasizing personalized exercise plans, nutrition support, access to rehabilitation services, speech therapy and opportunities for social engagement and cognitive stimulation. Our collaboration with PFNCA extends access to specialized programs and services, recognizing that Parkinson’s can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate.

Five keys to person-centeredness

Here are some key considerations for those in the senior living industry to embrace person-centered holistic programming:

Needs assessment: Start by assessing the needs of residents and understanding the specific challenges they face. Doing so involves collaborating with healthcare professionals, community organizations and experts in relevant fields. Once the needs are identified, the next steps include developing personalized wellness plans, offering diverse resources and activities, and fostering a sense of community and belonging. Continuous evaluation and adaptation are essential to ensure that the program remains responsive to the evolving needs of residents.

Community collaboration: Expand the collaboration within communities to support individuals living with Parkinson’s. For instance, consider forging partnerships with local healthcare providers, universities conducting research on Parkinson’s and community organizations offering support services.

Advocacy and awareness: Advocate for policies and initiatives that support individuals affected by the condition, such as via participating in advocacy campaigns, engaging with policymakers to prioritize funding for Parkinson’s research and support services, and educating the public about the importance of early detection and intervention.

Empowering residents: Work with residents to take an active role in their Parkinson’s care. Doing so might include promoting self-management strategies, encouraging participation in decision-making regarding care plans, and fostering a culture of empowerment and independence.

Education and training: Promoting education and training for staff members, to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to effectively support residents living with Parkinson’s, is a critical aspect to any successful program. Many of those resources are available through community partnerships — from developing specialized training programs, to hosting workshops and seminars on Parkinson’s care best practices, to facilitating ongoing professional development opportunities.

In conclusion, embracing a holistic approach to Parkinson’s programming is essential for senior living communities to effectively support individuals living with this challenging condition. By recognizing the multidimensional nature of Parkinson’s and implementing personalized, comprehensive wellness plans, operators can enhance the quality of life for residents and foster a sense of community and belonging. Collaboration with organizations specializing in the disease (such as, in our case, the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area) can provide access to specialized resources and services, further enriching the support available to individuals living with Parkinson’s.

By prioritizing person-centered care, advocating for awareness and support, empowering residents and investing in education and training for staff members, senior living communities can create an environment that promotes well-being and enhances the lives of those affected by Parkinson’s disease.

Kyle Rasmus is health and wellness navigator at The Virginian, a continuing care retirement community managed by Life Care Services in Fairfax, VA.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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