Over the last few years, the leadership of the Jewish Home Family has become increasingly interested in, and knowledgeable about, Parkinson’s disease.

“Two years ago, we had a conversation with a family member here, and she said, why is it that you treat my husband as if he had dementia when what he has is Parkinson’s?,” Carol Silver Elliott, the Jewish Home Family’s president and CEO, said.

That man’s “speech was slow; it took him a long time to answer questions,” she continued. “The assumption was that he couldn’t answer the questions. We were misperceiving.” While such behavior might be identified with dementia and other conditions, it isn’t necessarily. “We were just not giving him time to fully articulate.

“We jumped to a conclusion.”

That made her think, Ms. Elliott said. “Maybe we need to dig into this a bit further,” she remembers concluding, noting that about 10 percent of patients have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. “We started training 300 members of our staff to understand what Parkinson’s is and what it isn’t. We were fortunate to meet with people from the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation and we agreed on several areas where we can work together.”

For example, she said, on April 16 the Jewish Home Family and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center will co-sponsor a program, “What’s New in Parkinson’s Research?”, featuring updates from the Fox Foundation. This is the second such community education program done in conjunction with the foundation, Ms. Elliott said.

In addition to community education, the Jewish Home agreed to engage in community outreach, helping to promote studies on genetic research the foundation is funding. Recruiting in the Jewish population is particularly necessary, Ms. Elliott said, because “We learned through conversations with the foundation that there’s a higher prevalence in Ashkenazic populations.”

Another area of cooperation is “best practices,” she continued. “The foundation helps us to uncover best practices in other places and we share what we do.” What they do actually is quite impressive. The Jewish Home has developed what Elliott called “powerful interventions” for patients with Parkinson’s.

Carol Silver Elliott, left, and Dr. Samantha J. Hutten

Since the disease manifests in different ways in different people, Dr. Gary Alweiss, the chief of neurology at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and Jewish Home medical director Harvey Gross have been working together to develop individual protocols for people at the Jewish Home with Parkinson’s, creating a “pathway throughout our system,” Ms. Elliott said. “Programs include yoga, tai chi, and dance, and we added Rock Steady Boxing a year ago. That program has exploded for us. It’s offered five days a week at the Jewish Home’s Assisted Living facility in River Vale.”

A young attorney in Indianapolis who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and looking for a way to slow the progress of the disease began Rock Steady Boxing in 2006, when he learned that one way to accomplish that goal was to engage in a boxing workout. Today there are such boxing programs in many places. Research shows that people improve with this program, whether because of its intense repetitive physical activity, gains in coordination and confidence, or intellectual stimulation. Rock Steady Boxing also helps participants work on their voices, which generally are affected by Parkinson’s.

Ms. Elliott said that specialized programs also have been created for the Gallen Day Center, which serves people who need more help. “We’re constantly looking for new things to add to expand our program,” she said, noting that Parkinson’s is a disease that may be misdiagnosed. “It’s a little bit amorphous,” she said, presenting differently in different people.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, more than 10 million people around the world live with the disease. The incidence of Parkinson’s increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with the condition are diagnosed before they turn 50. Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.

In dealing with this issue, “cooperation is the name of the game,” Ms. Elliott said, adding that the Jewish Home enjoys a “great relationship” with Englewood Hospital. “They’re great partners,” she said, noting that the Jewish Home has a lot of connections with area hospitals since “there’s a lot of back and forth over the care of individuals in our organization who go there. Also, as things change with payment system, it will be even more significant.”

Dr. Stephen Brunnquell, president of MDPartners, the physician network of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, said that as “Parkinson’s disease continues to affect our community, it is imperative that people have the most current and valuable information available to them. As a primary care physician, it is my goal to always help identify and manage conditions such as Parkinson’s at the earliest point possible — which is why seeing a primary care physician regularly is so important.

“Parkinson’s in its early stages can have very subtle symptoms, and no two patients’ symptoms are alike,” he continued. “Everyone knows that Parkinson’s usually causes a tremor, but there are many other symptoms. I have found that a long-term relationship with a patient makes me better able to detect these symptoms early. Early intervention is key to the long-term maintenance and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, and that is why events like the upcoming program are so crucial for the community.”

At the April 16 program, Dr. Samantha J. Hutten, the senior associate director of research programs at the Fox Foundation, will provide updates in a program called “What’s New in Parkinson’s Research.” A questions and answer session will follow. The program is open to the community. “We hope anyone with an interest will come and listen,” Ms. Elliott said. “The previous program was packed. I imagine this will be the same way.”


Who: Dr. Samantha J. Hutten, senior associate director of research programs at the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation

What: Will speak on “What’s New in Parkinson’s Research,” sponsored by the Jewish Home Family and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center

When: April 16, 7-8 p.m., preceded by light dessert at 6:30

Where: Englewood Hospital, 350 Engle St., Englewood

What else: RSVP required to Parkinsons@JewishHomeFamily.org or (551)444-3183