Meeting Parkinson’s Up Close
Sasha Gant always knew she wanted to go into the helping professions. “It’s been natural for me,” she told me, the right fit.
But the right fit doesn’t mean easy or without a learning curve. “When I first started working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a geriatric facility and I connected with people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, it was overwhelming,” she admitted. She started realizing the complexity of the disease and wasn’t sure if she was equipped with the right tools to best support them. “I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t sure if I was prepared.” In her heart, she knew she wanted to show up and provide the best care. “You want to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re saying the right thing, that you’re relaying the right messages to the family, that you’re giving the proper care…It’s a big responsibility.”
In fact, the closer she got to the people in her care, the more she felt this responsibility: “You start imagining it’s your own family member or child or friend. And you begin to ask yourself, ‘How would I want them to be cared for?’”
A Big Decision: Choosing a Parkinson’s Long-Term Care Facility
Today, Sasha has worked her way through a diverse array of roles to become the Sales Director of Lorien Encore, an assisted living community in Ellicott City, MD. Part of her job is to guide new and potential residents through the process of choosing a long-term care facility. “Leaving home is a big transition,” she told me. Once again, she feels the responsibility that comes with helping someone navigate this big shift in a way that honors their needs and wishes.
“When families consider transitioning their loved one with Parkinson’s to Lorien Encore,” she told me, “They’re looking for specific care. They’re looking for the necessary support and knowledgeable staff. They want to make sure that, if they bring their loved one here, that the staff is prepared for what may come with Parkinson’s. The residents come at all different levels, of course, but often more toward the later stages of the disease, and they want to be sure that we’re able to adequately take care of them.”
I asked Sasha what specialized care from a staff that’s attentive to the daily needs of their residents with Parkinson’s might look like. She explained it includes a range of support. “They’re looking for everything from can we provide specialized diets, to whether there’s transportation that can take their family member to specific doctor’s appointments” (there is), “to whether their loved one can participate in activities.” Lorien Encore offers a bounty of activities from yoga, to sensory activities, support groups, and even time with animals.
As Sasha explained, making sure the entire staff is prepared to deal with the unique daily care needs of people with Parkinson’s isn’t something that happens at all facilities and it requires a commitment to learning how best to serve this population. Lorien Encore chose to make this commitment.
Providing the Best Care Possible: Certified Parkinson Disease Care™ (CPDC™) Accreditation
A few years ago, the staff at Lorien Encore chose to receive training through PMD Alliance’s Certified Parkinson Disease Care™ (CPDC™) accreditation, which now distinguishes their facility from others when families are seeking knowledgeable, trusted care for their loved one with a movement disorder.
“The CPDC™ training was a really great opportunity,” Sasha explained. “We learned all these tools that we didn’t realize before that are truly helpful.” For example, they learned what to look for specifically in a Parkinson’s patient in their daily interactions and, most importantly, when to report something to a nurse. “Some things may seem normal in another person,” Sasha said, “but it’s not necessarily normal for someone with Parkinson’s. This was really helpful to understand.”
In fact, gathering the facility’s staff in this thorough training was a ripe learning environment that enhanced the power of the teachings. “Being in class together, being able to share different scenarios we’ve been in with people with Parkinson’s and discussing how we should react, what works well, that was a great chance for us to discover what best serves this population and how to provide them the highest quality care.” Again, the kind of care they’d want for their own family members.
Beyond providing meaningful insight and education for Sasha and the other staff members, I wanted to know how the CPDC™ accreditation impacted the residents with movement disorders. “What we learned, we’ve put into practice,” Sasha said, “and it allows us to relate to these residents better. Now, we’re not intimidated by their needs. We can help better guide them through challenges and communicate better with their families.” Sasha explained that when families come to visit, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. “You know, Parkinson’s can be up one day, down another. If family comes in on a down day, we’re now able to step in as staff and educate them: ‘It’s okay, don’t be alarmed. This is all part of the journey. Tomorrow could be a great day for them!’”
Sasha also said their training can help ease a visit with family. “We can give the person with Parkinson’s soothing options,” allowing the visit to unfold with more grace and joy for everyone. “CPDC™ really is an awesome opportunity because it makes the resident more comfortable, it makes the family more comfortable, and it makes the staff more comfortable. Everyone is educated and prepared for what’s to come.”
And this matters. While this is Sasha’s job, for the residents, Lorien Encore is their home. As Sasha pointed out, “This is where they’re living, and so we really become like family to them. I’ve been at Encore for five years. Some of the residents have been here as long as I have. We exchange Christmas gifts and make sure they’re okay each day. We build a very genuine relationship with each person.”
The Privilege of Caring
Creating a safe, trusted environment that feels like home to each resident is a big responsibility. I wanted to know if she ever felt overwhelmed by the important duty resting on her shoulders. “Honestly, I feel grateful,” she said. “I feel grateful that someone could come here and give us their loved one and trust us with their care. I take it extremely seriously. And I want to be able to live up to that trust they’re giving me. I want them to come here and actually receive everything we’re promising. I want to give them the best advice. But, really, I’m just grateful for families trusting that we’re doing the right thing, that we’re doing the best we can.” This is Sasha’s north star.
Advice for Navigating the Search for a Parkinson’s Long-Term Care Facility
Having spent her career working in an array of roles within long-term care facilities, I wanted to know if Sasha had any advice for families considering transitioning their loved one to an assisted living facility. It’s a big decision and many family members feel torn throughout the process.
“The first thing,” she said, “is to do all the research regarding the facility and what they offer.” But equally as important, she insisted, was for the family member to set themselves up with some kind of therapy, “someone to talk to, because a lot of people deal with the guilt of bringing someone they love to a facility. They need reassurance that they’re doing the best thing, and sometimes that reassurance doesn’t come from your parents who you’re moving into a facility. It will have to come from an outside person.”
Sasha also suggested that family members who were once their loved one’s primary caregivers choose new or beloved activities to add back into their lives. “Some people are so busy taking care of their loved one at home that, when they no longer have that same responsibility, they have a lot of free time. Find something you enjoy that you didn’t have time to do while caring for your loved one. It would be nice to see these family members gain some of their own independence back.”
Sasha’s care and commitment to her job extends wide, including within her embrace the residents she sees and supports each day, as well as their families. Clearly, her work comes from her heart. A natural fit, indeed.