Parkinson's Support Group

Coping With Parkinson's Disease

Almost one million Americans will be living with Parkinson’s disease by 2020, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Perhaps you have Parkinson’s or are caring for a loved one with the disease.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder affecting certain nerve cells in the brain. The disease can impact an individual’s mobility because it causes tremors, muscle stiffness, slowed movement and loss of automatic movement. It also can hinder an individual’s abilities to speak – their voice may get softer, sound hoarse or monotone, their speech may be slurred and they can have trouble finding the right words; all of this can make it difficult for others to hear them.

The cause of Parkinson’s remains unknown. While it mainly occurs in individuals age 60 and older, an estimated 4 percent of individuals with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before age 50, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Although there is no cure, it is possible to have a good quality of life with Parkinson’s, according to Shelley Spicher, director of Rehabilitation Services at Penn Highlands Clearfield. Medications can help to control the symptoms, often significantly. In certain instances, surgery may be recommended. Lifestyle changes can also help, including ongoing aerobic exercise, physical therapy that concentrates on balance and stretching, speech therapy to help improve speech problems and occupational therapy, Spicher said.

The Rehabilitation Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare offers a therapy program specific to individuals with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions. The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment, or LSVT, therapies are intense treatment protocols to help slow the decline of motor and speech skills and improve the quality of life. The Rehabilitation Center at Penn Highlands Clearfield offers LSVT BIG and LSVT LOUD and The Rehabilitation Center at Penn Highlands Elk offers LSVT LOUD.

In addition to therapy and exercise, Spicher says it can be important for an individual with Parkinson’s to:

  • Stay involved in stimulating activities that they enjoy, such as community work, taking classes and traveling;
  • Reduce stress;
  • Continue to learn about the disease, keeping themselves informed and empowered.

Another major component of coping with Parkinson’s is having someone to talk to, according to Spicher. The Rehabilitation Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare now offers two Parkinson’s Support Groups for individuals who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or another related condition, such as secondary Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and progressive supranuclear palsy, as well as the family members coping with the disease process.

The DuBois support group has been in existence for some time, but the Clearfield support group is new as of September, said Spicher, who leads the Clearfield group along with Nicole McMillen, occupational therapist at Penn Highlands Clearfield. The group will be held every third Friday of the month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the first floor conference room at Penn Highlands Clearfield. The first session is Sept. 21. For more information, please call 814-768-2285.

“Our group, similar to the DuBois group, will feature education, sharing of personal stories and socialization with others who are going through similar situations,” Spicher said. “Understanding that you are not alone can be an eye-opening experience, one that can really help you to feel supported.”

The groups also are intended for family members or caregivers of someone with one of these conditions, according to Gette Bardo, physical therapist assistant at Penn Highlands Elk and leader of the DuBois support group.

“In addition to offering help with managing symptoms and providing eduction on resources and other aspects of dealing with the disease, our support groups can really create a sense of community,” Bardo said. “This feeling of community is important not only for the individual with Parkinson’s, but also for their loved ones and caregivers.”

The DuBois Parkinson’s Support Group meets every third Wednesday of the month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Parkside Community Center at 120 W. Park Avenue, DuBois. For more information, please call 814-375-3372.

There is no cost to attend either group and it doesn’t matter where a participant is receiving treatment. New members are welcome and there is no need to pre-register.

For more information about Rehabilitation Services, visit