Care Guide for Seniors With Parkinson’s Disease
Aging leads to many physical changes, such as reduced bone density, loss of muscle mass and a diminished sense of smell. Many of these changes are just a normal part of life, but some of them increase the risk of developing a neurological disorder like Parkinson’s disease, a condition that causes muscle stiffness, tremors, loss of balance, poor coordination and other neurological symptoms.
As a caregiver, it’s important for you to understand that Parkinson’s disease is progressive. That means the symptoms generally get worse over time, making it more difficult to walk, talk and perform other activities. One way to reduce the risk of complications is to modify your loved one’s home to prevent falls and other accidents associated with poor balance and coordination.
This guide outlines some of the most important home modifications you can make to improve your loved one’s quality of life. If you decide that your loved one isn’t safe at home, use this guide to find a senior living community that provides specialized care for Parkinson’s disease.
Room-by-Room Modification Checklist to Improve Safety for Seniors With Parkinson’s Disease
No one-size-fits-all home modification plan works for every senior with Parkinson’s disease, as the symptoms affect everyone differently. In some people, the symptoms are severe enough to warrant the use of a wheelchair or walker. Other people with Parkinson’s disease have mild symptoms for several years before the disease progresses.
That’s why it’s important to walk through your loved one’s home and assess it based on their unique circumstances. We put together this room-by-room checklist to help you identify necessary modifications. Keep a copy with you as you walk through each room and examine it for potential safety issues.
Home Safety Considerations for Older Adults with Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease affects the nervous system in several ways. Many people freeze before taking a step forward, increasing the risk of trip-and-fall accidents. It’s also common for seniors with Parkinson’s disease to shuffle, which means they don’t pick up their feet when they walk. This makes it more likely that they’ll trip on carpets, loose flooring and other obstacles. As the disease progresses, it may cause vision problems and other symptoms that further increase the risk of injury.
Fortunately, it’s possible to make your loved one safer with home modifications. These are some of the most important safety considerations to keep in mind when you’re modifying a home for an older adult with Parkinson’s disease. If you’re not confident in your home improvement skills, hire a licensed contractor to make the changes for you.
As you age, your eyes undergo many changes. The lenses get thicker and stiffer, making it more difficult to focus on objects or see things in low lighting conditions. Older adults also experience changes in depth perception and color perception. Parkinson’s disease may cause several vision changes, such as difficulty distinguishing between similar colors and irritation of the eyelids due to decreased blinking. All of these vision changes can make it more difficult for a senior with Parkinson’s to move around their home without falling.
To reduce the risk of injury, make sure every room in your loved one’s home has adequate lighting. One of the easiest ways to do this is to replace burned-out bulbs. You can also brighten things up by using LED bulbs or installing high-watt daytime bulbs. If you decide to try different bulbs, make sure you don’t exceed the wattage recommendations listed on each light fixture.
Floor lamps, table lamps and night-lights are also helpful for making rooms brighter and ensuring your loved one can see as they walk from room to room. If you add lamps to a room, keep the cords out of all walking paths. Otherwise, your loved one may trip and fall.
Choosing the right furniture can help your loved one maintain as much independence as possible. In people with Parkinson’s disease, changes in the nervous system may disrupt normal Circadian rhythms, the physical and mental functions that occur in a 24-hour cycle. These disruptions increase the risk of sleep problems, making a comfortable bed essential. If your loved one has a worn-out mattress, consider replacing it with something that offers just the right amount of support to encourage quality sleep.
If your loved one has difficulty getting into or out of bed, it can also be helpful to buy a hospital-style bed that moves up and down. Adjustable beds reduce the risk of falls by eliminating the need to climb on a high mattress. They also tend to be more comfortable, as you can raise and lower the head of the bed to provide extra support.
You may also need to replace the couches and chairs in your loved one’s living room. Furniture that’s too low to the ground is a fall hazard because seniors with Parkinson’s disease may lose their balance when trying to stand up. Instead of ordering a recliner lift chair online, take your loved one to a local furniture store and have them try out several models. This is the best way to ensure that a couch or chair is just the right height.
If you decide to purchase new furniture, choose items that are an appropriate size for each room in your loved one’s home. Oversized furniture may stick out into walking paths, increasing the risk of trip-and-fall accidents. It’s also important to limit the amount of furniture in each room, as too much furniture can make it difficult for seniors with Parkinson’s disease to move around.
For people who shuffle or freeze before they take a step, some types of flooring are safer than others. In most cases, it’s wise to avoid thick carpeting, as your loved one may have trouble maintaining their balance. Tile, laminate, wood and other hard surfaces reduce the risk of trip-and-fall accidents, making them a good choice for many homes. If you’re concerned about your loved one falling on hard flooring, thin carpeting is an acceptable alternative. To reduce the risk of falls, make sure the carpeting is installed properly, with no wrinkles and no loose edges.
In the bathroom, you need to think about how to protect your loved one from slippery surfaces without creating additional hazards. If you purchase a bath mat to absorb water when getting out of the shower or bathtub, make sure it has nonskid backing. Otherwise, it could slip out of place when your loved one steps on it, resulting in a fall. Grab bars are also helpful, as they can help your loved one steady themselves when moving around the bathroom.
Interior accessibility is also an important consideration, especially if your loved one uses a wheelchair. The first step is to clear as much clutter as possible out of each room. Laundry baskets, furniture, decorative items and other objects can get stuck in wheelchair wheels, making it difficult for your loved one to move around. If necessary, remove a few pieces of furniture from each room to give your loved one extra space to navigate.
You may also need to make some changes to the kitchen and bathroom to ensure your loved one can reach what they need. In the kitchen, it’s helpful to have an open space under the sink so that your loved one can wash dishes or use the sink for other purposes. ADA certified renovation companies are best for making wheelchair friendly environments.
In the bathroom, you need to think about toilet height and shower/bath accessibility. For best results, the ADA recommends that an accessible toilet has a seat height ranging from 17 to 19 inches. It’s also important to make sure your loved one has enough room to move around the toilet. This means leaving at least 60 inches between the toilet and the side wall. Be sure to install grab bars to make it easier for your loved one to get into and out of their wheelchair without falling.
To make the bathtub or shower enclosure more accessible, consider installing a walk-in or roll-in shower. For wheelchair users, roll-in showers make it possible to enter the shower enclosure and take care of personal hygiene needs without having to transfer from the wheelchair to a shower seat. Since Parkinson’s disease causes balance problems, it’s also important to install grab bars in the shower.
Choosing a Senior Living Community for a Loved One with Parkinson’s Disease
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, your loved one may experience new symptoms that make it difficult to remain at home. Senior living communities have many services to help residents with Parkinson’s disease manage their symptoms and avoid accidents caused by poor balance and gait abnormalities, making them a safer alternative. If you determine that your loved one needs more care than you can provide, make sure the community you choose offers the following:
- Specialty Care: Although Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, a neurologist isn’t the only health care professional who should be on your loved one’s care team. Look for communities that can manage care transitions as the disease progresses, offering access to physical, occupational and speech therapists and other professionals who understand how to treat Parkinson’s symptoms and help your loved one retain as much function as possible.
- Around-the-Clock Supervision: The community you choose should have at least one nurse or another licensed medical professional on hand 24 hours per day. If your loved one has an emergency, a licensed professional can provide first aid or call first responders for additional assistance.
- Medication Management: Taking medications on time is one of the best ways to prevent Parkinson’s symptoms from getting worse. Look for a community with staff members who are committed to administering medications on time every day.
- Specialized Training: Parkinson’s disease requires specialized care, so it’s important for staff members to understand the course of the disease and know how to address the symptoms that occur as it progresses. Look for communities that offer specialized training to ensure their staff members can provide high-quality care to residents at every stage of Parkinson’s disease, including caring for residents with dementia.
Senior Living Communities Offering Specialized Parkinson’s Care for Seniors
If your loved one needs extra help, assisted living is probably the best fit, as assisted living communities have staff members available to provide assistance with activities of daily living. These communities also have specialized programs to help seniors maintain as much strength as possible. The table below gives an overview of some of the options available, along with a short description of the Parkinson’s care programs available at each one.
Goddard House offers a Parkinson's care program that emphasizes multiple dimensions of wellness. This holistic approach gives residents access to a variety of therapies to manage their symptoms and prevent disease progression. Staff members also receive specialized training to help them be more effective.
Redstone Village is an affiliate of Rock Steady Boxing, a fitness program designed for adults with Parkinson's disease. Program participants use no-contact boxing to improve their balance and address some of the gait issues caused by Parkinson's.
Parkinson's Specialty Care in Edina, Minnesota, offers a home-like environment staffed by highly trained professionals. The house has just six residents, ensuring that each person receives individualized attention. Family members are also encouraged to visit as often as possible.
Youville House has a comprehensive care program for residents with Parkinson's disease. The program emphasizes physical movement to keep the muscles strong and improve balance/coordination. Youville House also offers a support group to help residents and their loved ones better understand how Parkinson's disease affects physical and mental functioning.
Overland Park, KS
The Heritage of Overland Park emphasizes on-time medication administration to prevent Parkinson's symptoms from worsening. Staff members also provide memory care, physical therapy, ambulation assistance and occupational therapy to preserve physical functioning and reduce the risk of falls.
Residents of Agape Villa Care Home have access to a comprehensive Parkinson's disease care program. The community has regular social events to help residents stay engaged and avoid the isolation that sometimes accompanies a Parkinson's diagnosis. Agape Villa Home Care offers a home-like environment to make residents more comfortable.
At Parkinson's Specialty Care Residential Living in Bloomington, staff members undergo extensive training to help them provide expert care to residents with Parkinson's disease. The community's home-like environment makes it easier for residents to socialize, reducing the risk of depression and social isolation.
Residents of Ultimate Personal Care Homes have access to a comprehensive memory care program, which includes reminiscence therapy. This therapeutic approach engages all five senses to help residents remember things from the past. Staff members offer a personalized approach to Parkinson's care, ensuring residents get exactly what they need to maintain their health and independence.
Residents of Fairview Rehab & Nursing Home have personalized care plans, ensuring they receive just the right combination of services to address their symptoms and delay disease progression. Available services include dietary consultations, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Golden Valley, MN
Residents of Parkinson's Specialty Care Residential Living in Golden Valley stay in a home-like environment, making it easier to form lasting relationships. The community's care model emphasizes extensive staff training, ensuring that all residents receive high-quality care.
Overland Park, KS
Nantucket House has state-of-the-art facilities to keep residents active and engaged. The community has gardens, a covered deck and other amenities to encourage residents to get outside and move around as much as possible. Staff members also facilitate activities designed to preserve cognitive function.
At Parkinson's Specialty Care Residential Living in West Bloomington, residents have access to multiple spaces, making it easier to stay active and enjoy the quiet community. Staff members also undergo regular training to ensure they're aware of current best practices in managing the signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Saint Simeon's Senior Community offers multiple care programs for residents with Parkinson's disease. These programs include Core Stix, which helps balance and muscle strength, and WaterFit, which uses an aquatic trampoline to improve physical functioning. The community also has a treadmill with an unweighted harness to correct walking difficulties.
Parkinson's Specialty Care Residential Living provides specialized care in Maplewood, Minnesota. The Parkinson's program emphasizes on-time administration of medications to prevent residents from experiencing worsening symptoms. Staff members also offer assistance with activities of daily living and ensure that residents have the assistive devices they need to perform routine activities.
If you need help selecting a senior community for your loved one, contact a family advisor at (800) 973-1540.
Parkinson’s-Related Resources for Caregivers
Once your loved one is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, they may need help paying for treatments or covering the cost of home modifications. As a caregiver, you also need to educate yourself about the disease and take advantage of support groups and other tools to help provide education, support and prevent caregiver stress. The organizations below offer educational materials, support groups and other resources to help patients and caregivers manage the physical, mental and financial changes that may accompany a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
How It Helps/What It Does
The PAN Foundation provides up to $3,300 in financial assistance per year to help people with Parkinson's disease get the medications they need to control their symptoms. If your loved one is receiving treatment for Parkinson's, takes a covered medication and meets the financial requirements, they may qualify for assistance.
PWF provides grants to help people with Parkinson's disease improve their quality of life. Although the program currently has a waiting list, PWF posts funding requests on its website and invites visitors to make donations. If you need funding for home modifications or Parkinson's treatments, consider posting a request.
Michael J. Fox established his research foundation after receiving a Parkinson's diagnosis at a young age. The organization offers many resources to help patients and their caregivers, including the Parkinson's Buddy Network, a platform that connects people affected by Parkinson's disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation also funds Parkinson's-related research.
IPMDS maintains a library of handouts to help patients and caregivers learn how Parkinson's disease affects the body. The website also has pamphlets explaining some of the treatments available for Parkinson's, helping you better understand what to expect.
The Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's has ambassadors available to talk with you or your loved one about what a Parkinson's diagnosis might mean for your family. The organization also has a Healthy Parkinson's Communities initiative to enable community leaders to provide support for families affected by Parkinson's disease.
APDA provides tools to help caregivers understand more about Parkinson's disease. The organization also operates support groups and exercise groups, ensuring that people with Parkinson's have opportunities to share their stories and strengthen their bodies. To ask a question about Parkinson's disease, use the APDA Ask a Doctor tool.