Dr. Christine Sapienza, Dean of Jacksonville University’s Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences, has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Joy McCann Foundation to help develop online patient and caregiver interactive guides to protect airway function in Parkinson’s Disease.
The project, supported through the foundation’s Community Enrichment Grants program, is a potential game-changer for Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers. Until now, traditional guides and resources have only been available in print, which creates a passive learning environment in which material can be overwhelming and difficult to sort through.
The modules developed through the new project are intended to engage active learning and choices for safer swallowing, thus protecting patients from aspiration pneumonia, one of the leading causes of death in Parkinson’s Disease.
Dr. Sapienza and her colleagues will develop online and virtual educational materials for people living with and/or caring for patients with Parkinson’s. These new educational guides will be offered through a gaming environment, and their interactive format will help users be more aware of cues in a patient’s behavior, enabling them to then practice various techniques to better manage airway protection issues related to Parkinson’s.
The patient and caregiver guides will be developed and tested through focus groups consisting of local patients and in collaboration with the University of Central Florida Institute for Simulation and Training.
Dr. Sapienza is an internationally recognized expert on rehabilitation strategies for those with neurological and neurodegenerative disease. She has served as principal investigator for National Institutes of Health grants, VA Research Rehabilitation Research and Development Awards, and MJ Fox Foundation grants. She has also provided mentoring to 16 doctoral students, one VA Career Development Awardee, and dozens of theses for master and undergraduate students, all of whom have contributed back to academic employment, science, teaching and clinical service. Dean Sapienza brings the expertise home locally by meeting with members of local Parkinson’s support groups to discuss strategies to improve swallow function, breathing, cough and communication.
Dr. Zbigniew Wszolek, Professor of Neurology, invited Dr. Sapienza to be guest speaker at Mayo Clinic’s Neurology Grand Rounds to discuss the use of expiratory muscle strength training, a treatment developed by Sapienza to improve airway protection mechanisms in Parkinson’s patient populations.
“With Parkinson’s disease we are focused on improving quality of life,” Dr. Sapienza said. “Communication and eating are two very important facets to quality of life, yet these are functions that we don’t think can be rehabilitated — but they can, just like other muscle functions.”