Unmasking Nonmotor Symptoms of PD: Visiting Nurse Notes with Dr. Susan LaRocco

Image courtesy of Wendell Lowe, member PDF Creativity and Parkinson's Project.

Image courtesy of Wendell Lowe, member PDF Creativity & PD Project.

Do you wish your health team understood the impact of your “invisible” symptoms — the ones that we cannot see, such as fatigue, sleep disturbances and pain?  Susan LaRocco, Ph.D., of Curry College, an alumna of The Edmond J. Safra Visiting Nurse Faculty Program (EJS-VNF) at PDF, is helping to make that happen.

In 2012, Dr. LaRocco completed our “train the trainer” program, which prepares nursing faculty in Parkinson’s disease so they can, in turn, prepare their students. Dr. LaRocco’s final research project for the program recently resulted in a published article, “Unmasking the Nonmotor Symptoms of PD,” in Nursing 2015, a journal widely read by nurses across the US.  We sat down with Dr. LaRocco to learn about her work, how the program impacted her teaching, and why telling other nurses about nonmotor symptoms is so important.

Q. Can you tell us about your career as a nurse and nursing educator?
I halarocco_susanve been a nurse for more than 40 years, in a variety of direct patient care, administrative and educator roles. One of my most rewarding positions was working in a rehabilitation setting, in which I regularly worked with patients living with PD. Currently, I am the nursing division chairperson at Curry College in Milton, MA, where I am responsible for all of our nursing education programs, which serve more than 1,000 students.

Q. Why did you choose to complete the program?
I have always been interested in progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, because they represent an area of health care in which nurses can play such a critical role by providing supportive care and education about disease management. With the VNF program, I wanted to learn more about the specific impact of Parkinson’s on the lives of patients and their families, and how we as nurses can provide the best care.

Q. Can you share any key lessons you learned about Parkinson’s?
The hands-on experience was enlightening. For instance, we had the opportunity to observe a person with PD who had undergone deep brain stimulation surgery interact with a nurse with expertise in that area. We also attended a support group, which helped us better understand the impact of PD on an entire family. These experiences were invaluable. Additionally, I gained new knowledge. Before the training, I was particularly aware of and interested in the dementia that can occur in some people with PD, but I was not really aware of the many nonmotor symptoms. The training opened my eyes to the importance of knowing about them and having strategies to alleviate them.

Q. Can you tell us more about your recent article and why it is important?
I think many nurses are not aware of the range of symptoms that people with PD experience. To care for the whole person, we need to understand all of the problems that they are experiencing, not just the most visible ones. I think that when nurses read it, they will have a much better understanding of their patients with PD and will provide them with more comprehensive care.

Q. We know that nurses want more preparation in PD care. This program exists to fill that gap. Has the experience impacted your work as a nursing educator?
It is true that there is so much material to cover for pre-licensure nursing students, that it is hard to give enough time to each disease. After having done this program, I spend much more time in my lectures discussing PD, especially the nonmotor symptoms and treatment options. I am able to go into certain topics, such as deep brain stimulation, in much greater detail. Because of the hands-on experience we gained during the program, I can bring in real-life case studies of PD that help students have a more in-depth understanding, not only of the PD symptoms and their management, but of the human condition of coping with that disease process.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with nurses or people with PD?
It was a privilege to be accepted into the program and truthfully, I just cannot say enough about the program. It was such a unique opportunity to be immersed in academic learning with an interdisciplinary team knowledgeable in PD, while also having the chance to listen to real patients with PD tell their stories. I encourage other nursing faculty to apply.

To learn more about The Edmond J. Safra Visting Nurse Faculty Program at PDF, visit www.pdf.org/edmondjsafranursing

One thought on “Unmasking Nonmotor Symptoms of PD: Visiting Nurse Notes with Dr. Susan LaRocco

  1. Margarita

    Dear SIr/Madam,

    I would like to find out if you have a similar program Train the trainer for Allied Health professionals and particularly for OTs?
    Thank you and kind regards,


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