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Are we 'Parkinson's friendly'?

Here's one statistic Minnesota doesn't want to brag about - it's the third largest state per capita impacted by Parkinson's disease (PD).

An estimated 20,000 people are living with PD in Minnesota; the only states with greater PD impact are North Dakota and South Dakota.

But one thing Minnesota can brag about is that it's taking action to ensure that the state's communities are "Parkinson's friendly." Alexandria has been identified as one of three communities in which the initiative will begin.

The National Parkinson Foundation Minnesota (NPFM) is working to create Parkinson's-friendly communities across the Upper Midwest. According to organizers, this isn't a bricks and mortar project, but is rather about ensuring individuals and families touched by PD remain vibrant, engaged members of their communities. 

A grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation will support implementation of the program in the communities of Alexandria and Willmar, as well as in Fargo, North Dakota.

According to Julie Steen, exexecutive director of the NPFM, the goal of the program is to build awareness and provide education and tools to allow communities to embrace those living with PD.

Components of the plan will help create an opportunity for vibrant, healthy, inclusive communities empowering those living with Parkinson's disease.

"Building Parkinson-friendly communities will make huge differences in the lives of people living with Parkinson's disease and their families," said Steen. "We believe that the spill-over effect for people with other chronic illnesses and disabilities will be profound. Compassion breeds compassion; knowledge and awareness can be contagious."

According to Ann Garrity, NPFM communications director, the three pilot communities were chosen because they have already displayed excellence in the area of PD support and services.

Garrity said Alexandria was chosen because of the strong partnership here between local health care providers in working together to offer quality patient care, as well as the exemplary classes and support group services available to people and families affected by PD.

She noted that the idea is to take what is already happening in the community and expand on it.

"Alexandria knows what Alexandria needs," she said. "We're just coming in to ask 'what do you need, and what can we do to support you'."

NPFM will meet with local business and community leaders to discuss the social, civic and economic factors of PD in the community and to create awareness and help support the community with information and education.

Businesses will be guided in efforts to make work places Parkinson's-friendly for employees and clients/customers with PD. Organizations, churches, schools, etc. will be given tools to ensure community events are Parkinson's- friendly.

Initial meetings between NPFM representatives and local leaders are taking place this week. According to Garrity, it is hoped that within one year, Alexandria will officially be a "Parkinson's-friendly Community."

A PERSONAL STORY

Read about a local man's personal struggle with Parkinson's disease, and learn more about local services on Page A9 in today's Echo Press.

PARKINSON'S-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES

Once the National Parkinson Foundation Minnesota has fully implemented its Parkinson's-friendly (PF) Communities program, a community would include the following:

WORK PLACE:

--Multiple businesses have implemented the PF work place scorecard and are promoting their successes.

--Multiple businesses have adopted the PF work place scorecard.

--Local human resources association and/or chamber of commerce have adopted the PF environment scorecard and are committed to expanding business adoption of the program.

COMMUNITY EVENTS:

--Community park and recreation departments have PF event guidelines.

--Annual community events have adopted PF event guidelines.

--Faith communities and schools have been educated about what makes an event PF.

--Community initiative will continue to embrace and share how to conduct PF events.

HEALTH CARE:

--Hospitals/clinics have been trained on use of PF hospitalization kits.

--People with PD will have received the kit and be trained in how to use it.

For more information, visit www.parkinsonmn.org.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211
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