Parkinson’s Disease Patients May See Improved Care with New Tool Developed by Rutgers University–Camden Nursing Scholars

By Ed Moorhouse

Despite increasing rates of Parkinson’s disease, the chronic and progressive movement disorder affecting as many as one million Americans and up to 10 million people worldwide, many nurses do not have the experience needed to deliver the specialized care required by those patients.

A training program under development at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden seeks to remedy that situation.

“We want to ensure that staff nurses have the skills they need to provide the best practice for these patients,” says Margaret Avallone, an assistant professor or nursing and baccalaureate program director at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden.

“Because our population is aging, the number of patients with Parkinson’s disease is increasing,” Avallone says. “It requires a very individualized management, and that’s the challenge. Nurses need to have a better understanding of how to individualize care for the patient.”

To achieve that goal, Avallone and Michael Clark, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at Rutgers–Camden, have developed a screencast designed to educate and better prepare nurses caring for Parkinson’s disease patients in order to minimize preventable adverse outcomes for those patients.

“Less than five percent of nurses and physicians have specialty training in gerontology, so many don’t have the experience in dealing with some of the issues that may arise with Parkinson’s patients,” says Clark, who also directs the adult gerontology track for Rutgers–Camden’s doctor of nursing practice program. “It’s a specialized area of care and this project helps to identify the need for more information on Parkinson’s and to better train nurses in this area of care.”

The project is supported by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation through its Edmond J. Safra Visiting Nurse Faculty Education Program, which seeks to improve Parkinson’s disease care by training faculty leaders across the United States so they can, in turn, educate nurses and nursing students.

Through the Safra program, Avallone and Clark are partnering with the Inspira Health Network in Vineland, whose nurses will test the half-hour multimedia presentation and provide feedback to the Rutgers–Camden scholars. If it proves to be effective, the tool could be utilized in other healthcare institutions and as a teaching mechanism for nursing students.

“We feel that this is a good partnership between academia and nursing practice and we think have developed a tool that healthcare institutions would find useful to improve patient-centered care,” Avallone says.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease — which involves the malfunction or failure of nerve cells in the brain— suffer from tremors, a slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness of the limbs, and impaired balance and coordination.

Clark says there are significant challenges facing a Parkinson’s disease patient, including strict medication management, daily movement of their joints, and reducing falls.

“The other major aspect is that when most people think of Parkinson’s disease, they think of the visible motor manifestations, but there are severe non-motor manifestations, including hallucinations, that must be properly managed,” Clark says.

Avallone and Clark were nominated to be Safra visiting nurse educators by colleagues and peers. They join numerous other Rutgers–Camden nursing faculty members, including nursing dean Joanne Robinson, who have been selected for the program in the past.

A resident of Mullica Hill, Avallone earned her bachelor’s degree from Villa Maria College (now Gannon University) in Erie, Pa.; her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania; and her doctoral degree from Duquesne University.

Clark, a Philadelphia resident, earned bachelor’s degrees from LaSalle University and Thomas Jefferson University; his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania; and his doctoral degree from Drexel University.

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