Specialized care for Parkinson's and dementia

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Parkinson’s dementia is a unique form of dementia that requires extra special care. Find out how the team at Symphony at Mentor is helping people navigate. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Mary Malik

Patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia have usually experienced the onset of dementia within a year of developing the motor skills symptoms typical of Parkinson’s disease. Symphony at Mentor memory care is introducing several new programs and approaches to care that focus on the specific needs of residents with Parkinson’s dementia.

“We specialize in memory care but have residents who also have Parkinson’s disease,” says Jeanne Onuska of Symphony at Mentor. “We customize our approach to these residents and provide them with targeted programs and care that are essential to the management of Parkinson’s disease.”

One family dealing with Parkinson’s dementia is Jeff and Pat Bowman. Jeff began having cognitive difficulties after major heart surgery in 2009. Over the next few years, Jeff’s motor skills also began to deteriorate.

“Things improved for a while, then got worse,” says Pat. “He was having difficulty understanding things and functioning at his job. When the tremors started, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia. I was determined to care for Jeff myself and keep him in our home.”

After a holiday trip to Missouri, where Jeff struggled with the change in his environment, Pat began to realize that caring for her husband at home may not be the safest option.

“I tried for several more months until Jeff started wandering out of the house and experiencing hallucinations where I struggled to control him,” says Pat. “I realized, with encouragement from family and medical professionals, that it was time for Jeff to be cared for someplace where he would be safe.”

One family dealing with Parkinson’s dementia are the Bowmans. When Pat became concerned for her husband Jeff’s safety, she entrusted Jeff’s care to Symphony at Mentor.

The anguish in Pat’s voice as she describes this decision is something many people can relate to, and it’s why she’s sharing their story.

“Walking into Symphony was like coming home,” says Pat. “The staff took care of everything for us, which allowed me to focus on Jeff instead of dealing with the details of the move.”

As memory care specialists, the staff at Symphony at Mentor helps families struggling with this decision to understand that home may not be the safest place anymore for the family member in need. The decision to care strictly for memory care residents is important to their mission of caring for the whole person and not just satisfying basic daily needs.

“This is why we focus on Parkinson’s dementia along with our memory care,” says Jeanne. “We have residents dealing with both. We already specialize in memory care, so we began to think about how we could go further and help our residents and families also dealing with the Parkinson’s component to keep some of the independence they were losing at home. How could we improve their quality of life? We focus on their specialized needs through unique therapies and programs.”

One of the these programs is scheduled outings to Rock Steady for Parkinson’s where residents take part in boxing classes and other fitness classes aimed at easing the tremors and movement problems. Rock Steady for Parkinson’s has proven to lessen symptoms and lead to a healthier life. People with all levels of cognitive ability can participate in these programs. In addition to outings, they offer daily exercise and creative arts programs to stimulate the brain. These types of activities have been proven to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

“This is just one of many things we are implementing at Symphony,” says Jeanne. “New computer therapies help with stimulating memory and feelings, and we’re also working with local Movement Disorder Neurologists to help develop better fall-prevention programs and quality assurance measures by using research studies to show how our programs are improving quality of life for our residents with Parkinson’s disease.”

Pat and Jeff Bowman are happy to be a part of life at Symphony at Mentor, where Jeff has adjusted well.

“Jeff is happy and he feels safe at Symphony,” says Pat. “And I’m able to sleep through the night again, which I hadn’t done in a long time. I was always waiting to hear him get up and I worried all the time. Now I go visit and can be his wife again. What a relief that is. I know the guilt a family feels when it’s time to make this decision, but the people at Symphony understood all of this and eased that transition.”

Pat says some days are better than others and anyone familiar with dementia knows what she means.

If you have questions or would like a tour of Symphony at Mentor, Jeanne Onuska is the newly appointed director of sales and marketing.

“I want people to know that I understand how overwhelming these decisions can be when your heart wants to keep your loved one at home but your head knows how difficult that will be,” says Pat. “Symphony at Mentor made that decision much easier. The building itself is beautiful, the people are supportive and they care about us. The staff here has become our support system.”

Pat recommends the monthly support group at Symphony that she started attending even before Jeff was a resident.

“It’s so nice to share experiences with people who understand,” says Pat. “Anything is on the table for discussion. And any issues or concerns I take to the staff are addressed right away. We are all working together for Jeff and that’s a comforting feeling.”

Symphony at Mentor is located at 8155 Mentor Hills Dr., in Mentor. Stop by for a visit, call 440-290-4140 for more information. Check them out on Facebook, where you can find a link to their website.