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Maintaining Independence During Parkinson’s: How a Social Worker Helps

November 10, 2021

The man was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of a spartan apartment, struggling to get to his feet when he awoke each day.

He had come to the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center (CFMDC), part of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute, for treatment and management of Parkinson’s disease, but clearly had more challenges than the disease itself.

That’s when Amanda Brill was brought in to help. Brill, one of the CFMDC’s three social workers, worked with the man to make his living environment safer and secure the support he needed to continue living independently.

“Social workers are a key member of the care team, helping patients and their families understand the scope of the movement disorder, cope with changes in functioning and connect with resources to help them adapt to those changes,” said Brill, who is based at the CFMDC’s Vernon location.

With her colleagues – Jodi Peck in Cheshire and Jennifer Lambert in Mystic – Brill provides:

  • Evaluation of the patient, family and social support system to identify care needs, gaps or barriers to obtaining care, and interpersonal or social issues that may negatively affect the psychological health and well-being of the patient and their primary supports.
  • Counseling for patients and family care-partners to address common behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, depression, grief, change in function, pain, caregiver strain and interpersonal challenges.
  • Support as patients develop healthy lifestyle behaviors to improve quality of life and overall wellness.
  • Advocacy on the patient’s behalf with the larger care team, other healthcare providers, and state and federal service agencies.
  • Education about the complex nature of movement disorders and behavioral and environmental modifications to maximize symptom management.
  • Referrals to community support and resources when appropriate.

“Families are dynamic and changing systems, each with its strengths and challenges,” Brill said. “Exploring that can help us identify the family’s capacity to support the person with the movement disorder and also how the person may experience this support.”

The CFMDC social work team also helps support patient caregivers, who are susceptible to stress and strain, by offering referrals to community support programs or behavioral health treatment.

Signs a patient may need social work intervention include:

  • History of a mental health condition or substance use disorder, or new mental health symptoms or substance use concerns.
  • Interpersonal or marital challenges.
  • Resource insecurity or barriers that negatively affect disease progression and management. These can include unaffordable medications, healthcare, help with activities of daily living, access to disability services and occupational issues.
  • Difficulty adjusting to a new medical diagnosis, change in functioning, living environment or lack of a social support system.

“Our goal is to support patients and their care partners by addressing any psychosocial barriers to accessing care at all stages of the disease,” Brill noted.

Patients can speak to their physician or provider for a referral to social work.