Patients suffering from complex, chronic illnesses, such as Parkinson's disease, benefit most from an interdisciplinary team of professionals collaborating to provide individualized treatment and a care plan designed to enhance the quality of life. The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) promotes this approach in our Centers of Excellence and Care Consortium networks.

Members of a Comprehensive Care Team:

Neurologists are doctors who specialize in problems with the nervous system. A movement disorders specialist is a neurologist who has completed an extra one-to-two years of training in movement disorders such as PD. The neurologist will monitor your case of PD, work with you to prescribe appropriate medications, monitor your response to therapies and make recommendations for care.

Primary Care Providers (PCP) are usually the first point of contact and are usually internists or family practice physicians who will manage your overall health. Don't be afraid to ask the family doctor for a referral to a specialist. Your PCP should receive periodic reports from your neurologist regarding the current management of your PD.

Physician's Assistants (PA) have an advanced degree and work under the supervision of a physician.

Nurses are often your primary contact and the central coordinator of your care. Nurse Practitioners (NP) are Registered Nurses (RN) who have an advanced degree and who have passed special licensing requirements. Nurse Practitioners can perform physical exams and prescribe medications and other therapies. They often work with a physician, although they can function independently.

Social Workers provide non-medical assistance and work in a variety of hospital and community settings. Many provide individual, couple and family counseling to help persons cope with stressful life events. Social workers often lead support groups. They can also help you to connect with a variety of community resources and help you and your family plan for the future.

Physical Therapists (PT) are licensed professionals who evaluate and treat mobility problems such as flexibility, strength, balance, posture and walking. They design exercises or provide training to meet an individual's needs. A PT can also help family caregivers by teaching safe and effective ways to provide assistance.

Occupational Therapists (OT) help to modify or adapt activities of daily living which include dressing, feeding oneself, getting in and out of bed, writing, and performing in the workplace. An OT can address issues of safety and independence in the home.

Speech-Language Pathologists (S-LP) are health care professionals trained to assess, manage and treat speech, voice, memory and swallowing problems. Treatment with a therapist can improve problems you may experience with communication or eating.

Nutritionists/Dieticians can help you design an eating plan for overall health. A Nutritionist can be particularly helpful if you have trouble chewing or swallowing, difficulty preparing nutritious meals or problems with your weight.

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Pharmacists provide valuable information about prescription medication and can provide counsel on possible drug interactions and side effects. Try to use the same pharmacy all the time so there is a record of all medications being taken.

Neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists with expertise in how behavior and cognitive (thinking) skills are related to brain structure and symptoms.

Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental, behavioral or emotional problems such a depression and anxiety. These symptoms may require specialized treatment.

Psychologists can work with individuals and family members by providing advice and counseling for coping with the disease.

Please also remember, that your caregivers and loved ones are often your best advocates and can help you communicate with your health care team.

Medical content reviewed by: Nina Browner, MD—Medical Director of the NPF Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in North Carolina and by Fernando Pagan, MD—Medical Director of the NPF Center of Excellence at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.