Parkinson’s is a complex disease that affects the way your body functions, specifically your motor skills. In addition to the anxiety and depression that can come from living with a chronic condition, the disease itself can also affect your thinking and memory. No cure exists yet, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms and allowing you to function at your best each day. In order to get the most complete treatment, you’ll need a team of healthcare professionals.
Each member of your team will specialize in a certain area of your treatment. These team members should also meet and share information with each other to be able to provide you with a full range of specialized care for your individual needs.
In some cases, you’ll find a ready-made team at a Parkinson’s treatment center. These are healthcare facilities that have an in-house staff of professionals specifically trained to treat people with Parkinson’s. Because they’re part of a treatment center, they’re used to working together in a team setting for a person’s care. The National Parkinson’s Foundation keeps a list of Centers of Excellence. The organization recognizes and recommends these facilities for their high standard of care.
If you aren’t able to go to a treatment center, you can still put together your own healthcare team. Remember that each member should have experience in their medical field as well as experience working with people who have Parkinson’s.
Here are the members to have on your team and how they can help, particularly as your disease progresses.
Primary care doctor
This is your regular family doctor, and the first doctor you see when you have a health issue. Depending on your insurance plan, you may need to get referrals to other specialists from this doctor. You can also ask them which specialists they recommend as part of your team.
Primary care doctors manage your overall health. You’ll go to them for regular wellness checkups. They will also consult with the other specialists you see.
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treating disorders that affect your brain and spinal cord. There are general neurologists and those who focus on movement disorders. Parkinson’s is considered a movement disorder — a condition in your brain that affects movement. Neurologists who’ve studied movement disorders have extra training and knowledge about Parkinson’s. They provide special expertise when the disease becomes harder to control with standard medications.
Your neurologist will suggest tests, and prescribe and monitor medications. They can also tell you about latest treatment options and research.
Physical therapists help with your body’s movements. They will evaluate your balance, strength, posture, and flexibility.
Your physical therapist can put together an exercise plan to help you improve movement and prevent falls. Starting exercise earlier in diagnosis may help you later on.
Occupational therapists focus on helping you to complete everyday tasks at home (like dressing and bathing) and in the workplace. They can recommend ways to modify tasks to work with your level of ability. They may also suggest devices or technology designed to make things easier for you and help you stay independent for as long as possible.
Speech and language pathologist
A speech and language pathologist helps people to communicate both verbally and nonverbally (facial expressions and sign language). In earlier stages of Parkinson’s, you may see a speech and language pathologist to help with voice control.
Some are also trained to help with swallowing problems — which happen as Parkinson’s progresses — and can recommend exercises and different eating techniques.
Social workers help you get access to the resources you need for treatment and support. They work in hospitals and private treatment facilities.
A social worker can be a valuable part of your care team because they can actually help you assemble your team. They can also give you a hand with navigating your health insurance coverage and get you disability, home care, nursing facility placement, hospice, or other resources you may need.
Your social worker is also a good person to talk to about how Parkinson’s has affected your life and the lives of your loved ones. They can recommend healthy ways to cope with the many emotions that come with being sick and needing care.
Psychiatrists focus on treating mental health. It’s common for people to experience anxiety or depression along with Parkinson’s. A psychiatrist can recommend medications, if needed, and teach you healthy ways to cope with your feelings.
Nurses can play a big role in your care. You may see them more often than doctors, particularly if you’re getting at-home nursing care or care at a facility. They can help you with medications and answer questions about how to manage your symptoms. Nurses who work regularly with those who have Parkinson’s generally have a lot of experience and can tell you what to expect as the disease progresses.
Dietitians help with nutrition, weight gain, and weight loss. They can advise you in putting together a balanced diet to meet your needs. During later stages, when you have trouble swallowing, they can recommend foods that are easier for you to eat.
A dietitian can also help you keep track of and avoid any foods that may have a negative interaction with a medication you’re taking.
Psychologists are trained therapists who help you talk about your feelings and provide support and healthy ways to process emotions. They can also meet with you and your family members to give advice and counseling.
Only you and your loved ones can truly make an impact on the course of your disease progression, but working with a team of healthcare providers who specialize in different aspects of Parkinson’s is an important step in getting treatment advice, suggestions, input, and more.