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Of all the neurological diseases that affect the elderly, Parkinson’s is one of the most recognized. It is not difficult to see that unique tremor or short stepping gait that the Parkinson’s client has. But these are just a fraction of all the problems one can have with Parkinson’s. If you have a loved one with Parkinson’s at some point you will need extra help with their care because of the list of problems they can develop. Extra help includes skilled people, such as physical therapists or speech therapists, and caregivers who assist with basic functions. Be sure you can recognize the skill level of the caregiver since that person will likely be the one who spends the most time with the Parkinson’s client.
Home caregivers help with basic functions such as dressing, bathing and feeding. But not all caregivers are trained to manage the special problems seen in those with Parkinson’s. Here are the problems that are typically seen in Parkinson’s:
- The movement disorders: shuffling gait, balance problems, hand tremors. Gait and balance problems can lead to falls.
- Difficulty swallowing – Can lead to choking and food getting into the lungs (aspiration). Aspiration can lead to pneumonia.
- Inability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) – Due to the hand tremors, which makes it difficult to dress, bathe, or feed.
- Mental changes – Can range from depression, memory loss or behavior changes. Anyone with Parkinson’s could suffer from one or more of these.
A home caregiver who does not understand what to expect from the Parkinson’s client may not be in tune with the client’s special needs. For example, the caregiver may know that most elderly are at risk for falls. But does the caregiver know that someone with Parkinson’s is at a higher risk for falls? Does the caregiver know the best way to help the Parkinson’s client with gait and balance issues?
A trained home caregiver should be able to recognize the particular signs of Parkinson’s and how to deal with them. These are some of the points the caregiver should know:
- Help with ADLs – a person with Parkinson’s may be able to put a shirt on but not be able to button it. Eating requires patience and the use of special utensils, such as weighted ones which help override the tremor.
- Swallowing difficulties requires slow chewing and special foods to prevent choking.
- Assistance with walking – Watch for balance problems. Make sure the person with Parkinson’s always uses a device for support when walking.
- Identify changes in behavior and report immediately. A new behavior could mean something serious, such as an infection.
- Look for home safety obstacles and correct them, especially pathways where the client walks.
- Medication reminders – Some Parkinson’s medications only work if they are given at certain times. Know if the client is on those medications and help with reminders.
Taking care of the client with Parkinson’s requires a special skill set. The caregiver must first understand the unique problems associated with Parkinson’s in order to provide the correct support. The caregiver must learn how to manage the client’s limitations effectively. This can only be done through proper training.
When looking for a caregiver to help with your loved one who has Parkinson’s, ask about training. Go through the information listed in this article as a guide to ask the right questions. A caregiver who has previously worked with those who have Parkinson’s would be a good choice.