Facing Parkinson’s Disease side by side

Managing Parkinsons Disease

On World Parkinson’s Day, artist Joy Schoenheimer, 90, and physiotherapy manager Henry Chien talk about the friendship they’ve formed while working together to manage Joy’s Parkinson’s symptoms.

Joy’s story

“I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in my 80s – that’s why I decided to move from my home in Queensland to Montefiore Randwick in 2013. I grew up in Bondi, so it was familiar yet different returning to Sydney after more than 60 years away.

Now being at Monte is like being part of an extended family – you can always find a connection with someone. And everything you need is here to stay healthy and on your feet. I make the most of all the opportunities to keep as well and mobile as possible.

I see Henry once or twice a week, and he puts me back together again. He’s a caring young man who gives a lot of himself over and above the call of duty – very bright and a broad thinker, as well as a good physiotherapist. Henry brings me new ideas and explains what’s happening to my body from a medical point of view. He’ll often come in and tell me he’s been thinking up a new exercise for me overnight.

We first started working together after Henry attended a seminar on the PD Warrior program – exercise is important for Parkinson’s. He was looking for a guinea pig to test it on, and he thought I’d be up for the challenge and willing to give it 100%. So we started doing that together, as well as working on the HUR exercise equipment, which is perfect for people like me with balance issues.

We also used to walk down to Centennial Park to practice on different terrain with my walker, and that’s when we would talk about our personal lives and backgrounds. He shares pictures of his dog and his baby daughter, which I have in my room. He’s even programmed my phone alarm to remind me about my medications.

I absolutely believe I wouldn’t be where I am or as well as I am today without Henry.”

Henry’s story

“I’ve been working at Montefiore for 12 years, first as a physiotherapist and now as Physiotherapy Manager for the Allied Health department. I’ve worked in hospital and rehabilitation settings as well, but I find working with older people really fulfilling. I’ve always been close to my grandparents and like them, the residents here have lived very interesting lives. I find making those personal connections fascinating, and they help to build trust in the therapeutic relationship, too.

I don’t like to hear doctors say: “You’re 90, what can you expect?” Even at that age people still have a lot of living to do, and it’s our role to help the residents explore what that looks like, and feel the the best they can.

Parkinson’s Disease has been an interest of mine for a while, so I like finding new exercises and ideas to challenge Joy. We’ve tailored the PD Warrior program to meet her needs and use Nordic walking poles for mobility, while the HUR exercise equipment helps with strength and conditioning. That’s on top of traditional physiotherapy interventions. We are very fortunate that Montefiore invests heavily in resources, training and innovation for both staff and resident benefit.

When Joy and I were practising walking outdoors, we’d talk about her children and her childhood experiences, and I’d share mine, too. The day we achieved our goal of making it to Centennial Park, she just wanted to keep on going through the gates – sometimes I have to remind her not to overdo it!

Working with Joy has taught me a lot about the power of positivity. She’s always inquisitive and ready to try something new – I think it’s part of being an artist, which is something that stays with you. It’s important to keep engaging in new challenges and interests for mental and physical wellbeing.

With Joy and everyone I work with, building rapport is rewarding. But it’s also important to treatment and how much trust someone puts in you. Taking time to explain the science behind what you’re doing results in more active participation.”

Read more in the latest issue of Montefiore Life magazine.

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