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Finding Purpose With Parkinson’s

February 13, 2023

Parkinson’s disease is just part of who Doe Hentschel is these days – and she’s determined to give others with the same diagnosis a dose of her enthusiasm and vision.

It’s a vision Hentschel, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 14 years ago, brought to Toni DeMarcaida, MD, her specialist and medical director of the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center, part of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute.

“I wanted to use my experience to help restore a sense of self and purpose in people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” explains the retired higher educator who works as a leadership preceptor for Leadership Greater Hartford developing programs to engage people in the community.

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Parkinson’s pilot

Finding Purpose With Parkinson's

The result is “Finding Purpose with Parkinson’s,” a new class piloted at CFMDC’s Vernon location to help patients set their diagnosis aside and regain their lives.

“It’s been proven that giving back to the community contributes to one’s sense of well-being and helps us live longer,” Hentschel says. Of her own diagnosis, she recalls, “Once I got over the fear of what this might mean, I decided this would be an asterisk in my life, not define who I am.”

The two-hour classes, available to patients at the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center and their partners, took place weekly for 10 weeks. Using curriculum Hentschel created, they examined their interests, looked at their valuable experience and investigated possible volunteering options.

“The goal was to find ways to get involved in the community, understand what they bring to their volunteerism and how that helps them,” she says. “It’s a way to focus on engagement versus the disease. You begin to cultivate the attitude that helps you cope with the tremors and other symptoms.”

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Eager participant

Susan Closson was quick to say yes to the invitation to join the classes with her husband, George. The Winsted couple has long been involved in community ventures – he on municipal planning, zoning, sewer and water committees; she in the schools and scouts while their daughter was younger.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2021, Susan Closson says she needed to adjust to its challenges before continuing her community work.

“Some weeks you may feel great, the next week you feel like folding in,” she says. “But, it’s up to you to stay involved. You don’t want to be alone.”

Part of her mission is to explain Parkinson’s to others while staying connected.

The classes contain helpful information for anyone, not just those with Parkinson’s, her husband adds.

“People have a tendency to disengage as they get older, but you need to keep focused and keep participating,” he says.

Looking ahead

CFMDC owns the curriculum for “Finding Purpose with Parkinson’s” and Dr. DeMarcaida is hoping to offer several sessions each year at different CFMDC locations. In the meantime, she and her team of movement disorders experts will track the class’ impact on participants’ physical, emotional and cognitive status.

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