Rose Wichmann, center manager

Struthers Parkinson's Center has made a world of difference by teaching patients, families and caregivers how to live better with Parkinson's disease. But its influence doesn't end there. The center also offers programs and training to teach other health care professionals throughout the upper Midwest to do the same. In addition, the center offers education and support to more than 90 support groups in its regional network, and many community outreach educational events, thereby improving the lives of thousands affected by this disease.

Helping the newly diagnosed

Many people describe the time when they are first diagnosed with Parkinson's as stressful, overwhelming or frustrating. They are seeking answers to their questions and information related to their individual situation. "At Struthers Parkinson's Center, we work to provide families with the right information at the right time," says Rose Wichmann, center manager. "One way we accomplish that is through our FOCUS program, which educates and supports patients and families coping with their new diagnosis."

FOCUS is an acronym for 'Finding Options for Care, Understanding and Support. "A sea of information is out there and this program allows people to tailor a program to fit their unique needs and concerns," Wichmann explains. Program options include a three-hour class several Saturday mornings each year. It also provides fact sheets, quarterly information supplements and monthly education and support sessions for those who want more information.

Coping with advancing Parkinson's

We also have classes for patients and families who have been living with Parkinson's for many years. As the disease progresses, medications may lose effectiveness in controlling symptoms. Some patients may benefit from deep brain stimulation surgery, or DBS. Struthers Parkinson's Center offers DBS informational classes, explaining what the surgery entails and who may be candidates.

Struthers Parkinson's Center also offers a series of classes to help caregivers obtain the necessary skills to care for loved ones - and prevent self injury. Sessions cover topics such as helping people up from chairs and lifting wheelchairs into car trunks. Classes include strategies to help caregivers cope with a loved one's thinking and memory changes, create a safe home environment and find resources that provide support to caregivers.

Teaching other health-care providers about Parkinson's

Struthers Parkinson's Center offers full-day classes for health professionals to learn how to better serve the needs of people who have Parkinson's. Classes have been developed for nurses and rehab professionals, including physical, occupational, speech and music therapists. The center also offers half-day classes for social workers and discharge planners.

Wichmann and Joan Gardner, a nurse at Struthers Parkinson's Center, collaborated to create an educational program toolkit, known as TULIPS, which residential care facilities and senior organizations can use when teaching staff about the needs of people with Parkinson's. "A red tulip is the international symbol for Parkinson's awareness," Wichmann explains. TULIPS is an acronym, with each letter representing a special need of Parkinson's patients. The toolkit contains a 15-minute DVD, educational modules for additional staff in-services, an instructor guide and competency assessment tools. The toolkit also includes visual reminders, including posters, stickers and stamps to help remind staff of special needs of residents with Parkinson's.