When Lynn and Karla Buffington first moved to Brightview North Andover, they quickly approached Community Sales Director Eileen Donovan to start a Parkinson’s support group. Together, they have made Brightview North Andover a go-to senior living community for those living with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a brain disorder that causes tremors, stiffness in the limbs, slow movement, and balance and coordination issues. Individuals living with PD often have difficulty walking and speaking. Problems with sleeping and eating are other common symptoms. There is no cure for PD, but medicines and speech and physical therapy can relieve some symptoms. Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with PD, and aging is a risk factor.
Lynn was first diagnosed with PD in 2004 after noticing hand tremors following wrist surgery. Karla, a former teacher, used her strength in research and inquisitive nature to learn more about PD and be an incredible advocate for Lynn. Over the years, the Buffingtons had a network of trusted doctors and regularly attended PD support groups and exercise classes.
In 2017, Karla started experiencing some medical issues herself. Not only did Karla need help post-surgery, but Lynn also needed support with his daily activities. Their daughter assisted for a time, but the Buffingtons ultimately moved closer to her in North Andover. “It was hard giving up our community and lifestyle – we were not happy campers,” Karla recalled. “Lynn had to watch me pack up our whole house and feel helpless.” Lynn was unable to pack boxes, help organize and support Karla in the move.
When the Buffingtons first moved to Brightview North Andover, Karla was adamant about giving Lynn a PD support system like the one they left in Connecticut. “It was important to get a support group up and running as fast as we could,” Karla said. “We offered an introductory meeting with an open discussion to anyone in the community. This then led to the start of the Parkinson’s monthly support group.”
“It was a long first year, but we worked as a team, and the group is a niche for our community now,” Eileen said. During their monthly meetings, the group talks about their current state of PD, practices handwriting, vocalizes speech, exercises, and discusses recommendations on everything from favorite walkers to the best movement neurologists. “A big part of my job is to help residents see they are not the only ones,” Karla said. “They are part of a group that cares about them and supports them. It helps them feel more comfortable about living in our community.”
Every meeting begins with a discussion of how the month has been and if people are noticing any new symptoms. “It makes me feel good to have these talks with others,” Lynn said. “People will say ‘oh, I have that problem, too,’ and it’s so important to share with other people.”
In addition to emotional support, the group uses physical exercise to help with PD symptoms. Through the community’s BAYADA fitness partners, the support group at Brightview North Andover follows the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) BIG and LOUD program. This research-based program was specifically created for those living with Parkinson’s and involves retraining the body and mind to take bigger steps and actions and speak louder. Another part of the exercise program includes boxing, which helps individuals living with PD work on their balance, eye-hand coordination, and core strength. “Everyone was thrilled when we started boxing; if nothing else, it was an easy way to punch out the frustration and tension associated with PD,” Karla said.
Karla puts together agendas for every meeting and compiles notes to send out to associates at Brightview North Andover. The Brightview North Andover structure has been so successful that a similar program has started at Brightview Danvers and Brightview Wakefield. The three communities even got together for a presentation from a prominent neurologist in the area.
The Buffingtons are proud and thankful to have started such a vital group. As Karla recalled, “Another resident once told me Parkinson’s can make you feel like you are on an island by yourself, and you don’t have anyone else to talk to about what is going on in with your body. Now, every meeting, I think about how I can help people feel in touch and come to terms with what is going on with their bodies.”
Eileen agreed, stating, “Knowing that our community is Parkinson’s friendly gives such peace of mind to residents and families.
Brightview Senior Living builds, owns, and operates award-winning vibrant senior living communities in eight states along the East Coast: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. We offer senior Independent Living, Assisted Living, Enhanced Care, and Wellspring Village®, a specialized neighborhood for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Schedule a personal visit to experience our communities firsthand.