Care Partners and Role Reversals

Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.

Michael J Fox
Ali Elder, Sharon Krischer and
Adrienne Keener MD

In Jnuary, 2018, I had the privilege of working with two amazing young women, Adrienne Keener MD and Ali Elder PT DPT, to plan the Los Angeles Forum for the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Women and PD TALK study. The end result was the creation of the first patient-centered action agenda to maximize quality of life for women with Parkinson’s disease. We worked together again to present a follow up program, Closing the Gender Gap, on Sunday at a local hospital. The event, sponsored by the Parkinson’s Foundation and [re+active] physical therapy, presented the research agenda for Women with Parkinsons based on the findings of the study.

An interesting thing occurred. We had originally planned to present this only to women with Parkinson’s. However, a significant number of spouses and carepartners came. So we decided that while the women were doing a reflective writing exercise, we would meet with the care partners. They were so happy to have a chance to talk about their issues that it became clear that having a support system for the care partners is just as important as having a support system for the women with PD. Before we could even ask a question,they immediately started talking, looking for answers and help.

It was an interesting group. Two young men were there with their mother and did not know where to turn for information or help. They were doing the best that they could, but really did not understand what their mother needed. They came looking to learn more about Parkinson’s Disease and how they could take better care of their mother. In contrast, there was a retired doctor who was very knowledgeable about Parkinson’s, but was at a loss about the dementia that seemed to be coming more and more of a problem for his wife. Different issues, same solution. They all needed to find out where THEY could get help so that they could be better care partners.

Many of the care partners were taking copious notes and it was clear that no one had asked them what they needed before. Our planned 10 minutes turned into 20 and the discussion could have continued the rest of the afternoon. We were very happy to help them in whatever way we could.

We had been so intent on talking about what is different for Women with Parkinson’s at our program that we forgot that the issues for their care partners are different too. The only thing that we said during our presentation is that the carepartners need to make time to take care of themselves. We did not consider how watching their spouse or mother with PD slowly decline would have such a profound effect on them. Just as the women experienced the role reversal of going from being the nurturer of their parents, spouse or children, the people we spoke to were also going through a change of identity in their new role as carepartner. Many of them were not ready for this.

There is some help on the horizon. When I spoke about the Facebook group for Women with Parkinson’s called Strongher Women, as a good resource for women with PD, founder Jen Parkinson noted that she will be setting up a companion site for carepartners in the near future.

And when I got home, catching up on my neglected emails, I saw an invitation from the PMD Alliance for an event for Care Partners, Adult Children and family or friends of those with PD and PSP next month in the Los Angeles area. How serendipitous! This was exactly what is needed. Just this morning I received an email from the Parkinson’s Foundation that they will be having a webinar on Coping with Dementia for Care Partners on November 5. It just shows that once you identify a problem, the means for a solution will turn up soon.

The main message that we stated over and over throughout the program, is that no one needs to be alone when fighting Parkinson’s Disease. We are there to support each other. And that applies to the Care Partners, too.

Looking back at 2017 and forward to 2018

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties. Helen Keller

It’s that time of year again, when we look back to see what we have accomplished, and look forward to the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead.

First, I want to thank all of you, the readers of this blog, for following me this past year.  It has been an adventure for me.   I hope that we will continue this dialogue for many years to come.

It has been 9 years since my double diagnosis of Parkinson’s and Breast Cancer.  Hard to believe that it has been that long.  I am doing quite well, with my symptoms mostly relieved by medication and exercise.  Of course there are ups and downs, especially while living with Parkinson’s.  But for the most part, nothing holds me back.  Mr. Twitchy and I have been traveling extensively, and plan to continue going places near and far, as long as we can.

Some of the highlights of our past year:

  1. The best part:  The continued growth of this blog has been a blessing beyound description.  The ability to connect with so many, to share information — and inspiration — with each other, to confirm that we are not alone and that we are, in fact a community, has brought joy and meaning that is difficult to put into words.  Let’s continue to read and comment  and inform each other; and it would be a thrill to meet any (and maybe many) of you at the Kyoto World Parkinson’s Congress in 2019.
  2. The most curious part:  The post with the most views in 2017 was actually from 2016; “Breast Cancer vs Parkinsons” discussed how the diagnoses are seen so differently, with the former being “acceptable” and the latter something to keep hidden.  The dichotomy seemed to resonate with a lot of people.  Sex and the PD Woman came in a pretty distant sixth place.  Not sure what that means.  (Maybe an update with pictures in 2018?)
  3. The most humbling part:  Being named one of Stanford Medicine’s Favorite Parkinson’s Blogs, one of Feedspot’s 50 top Parkinson’s bloggers (there are a lot of great bloggers on both lists, including many of the bloggers that I have been following since long before I began writing this blog) and being chosen as an official blogger for the 2019 World Parkinson Congress.
  4. The most exciting part:  Working with the Parkinson’s Foundation to create the study Women & PD TALK,  which grew out of the Women & Parkinson’s Initiative two years ago.   Led by the Parkinson’s Foundation and funded through the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI),  Women and PD TALK is the country’s first national effort to address long-standing gender disparities in Parkinson’s research and care based on the recognition that the disease affects the sexes in different ways.  Its goal is to develop new patient-centered recommendations to improve the health of women living with Parkinson’s.  It has  been a pleasure to work with Allison Willis, M.D., University of Pennsylvania and Megan Feeney, MPH, Parkinson’s Foundation, two true luminaries in the Parkinsons world. We have been privileged to work with teams of Patient Leaders and Health Care professionals who are planning forums in 10 different locations.  The first forum was in San Francisco in December and offered an exciting start that exceeded our expectations.

Some exciting prospects for 2018:

  1. The Women & PD Talk Forum in Los Angeles, on January 27, which I am honored to co-chair with Adrienne Keener, M.D. and Ali Elder, PT.   This will be the 3rd of the 10 forums being held around the US.
  2. The anticipated report and recommendations from Women & PD TALK  for improving care and outcome for Women with PD.
  3. Working with the World Parkinson Coalition to get ready for Kyoto in 2019
  4. Watching for, and sharing with you, the latest news on PD .  We seem to be inching closer to finding the root causes of Parkinson’s and possible treatments to reverse the damage.  Will this be the year for the big breakthrough?
  5. Oh, and we are expecting our 4th grandchild in May.  So there’s that, too.happy-new-year-2018-animation-fireworks-6062126467.gif