Support is a vital part of a care plan for anyone who is going through a challenging time.

Whether it’s a family, work or health stressor or crisis, access to a supportive network can guide an individual through the difficult time.

The New Milford Senior Center recognizes this and has introduced a new resource, the Greater New Milford Parkinson’s Support Group.

The group will meet the second Wednesday of each month from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. at the senior center starting Oct. 9.

“You need a champion (to lead a group like this),” said Jasmin Ducusin, program coordinator and assistant director at the center. “And we found one.”

Dawn MacNutt, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in January, will lead the group. She approached the senior center with the idea, which was readily embraced.

The group will be one of 34 American Parkinson Disease Association (ADPA)-affiliated Parkinson’s support groups in the state, though other non-ADPA groups are available, too.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement and can “affect the ability to perform common tasks, according to the APDA, Connecticut Chapter’s website.

There is no one test to confirm a diagnosis of PD, but a variety of tests — in combination with symptoms — can help doctors distinguish between Parkinson’s and Parkinsonism.

The number of cases of PD is increasing, making it now the second most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s, according to Susan Lather, ADPA information and referral coordinator for the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center in Vernon, who recently visited the center to discuss the new group.

“Support groups are so valuable — to share symptoms and not be judged,” she said. “It’s a place where people understand what you’re going through.”

“People think that you come to a support group and you’re sad,” Lather related. “But it’s more uplifting. You feel less alone. You can be out with people and be socialize.”

The senior center bus can provide transportation to New Milford residents who would like to attend the group.

MacNutt said she hopes those with PD find the group to be a safe, comfortable place.

“I know there are other people out there who are in different stages of Parkinson’s,” she said. “This will give people a space to find out about resources…and people might answer questions others didn’t even know how to ask.”

Speakers will also periodically participate.

Discussions about medications, exercise, drug trials, physical therapy ad speech are expected to be highlighted at the group.

The group kicked off with a special event, featuring two guest speakers, Sept. 11 at the 40 Main St. center.

Living with Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s is characterized by motor symptoms, including tremors, stiffness or rigidity of muscles, and slow movement.

A tremor might be the first symptom an individual recognizes, but often other symptoms — loss of smell, and gastro and sleep issues — go unnoticed or are thought to be related to other issues long before a tremor appears, according to Lather.

A change in handwriting (writing gets smaller), a softer voice, troubles with swallowing, falls/instability and depression are also characteristic of the disease.

“It’s an individualized disease with 40 different symptoms, and no two cases are alike,” Lather said.

The common symptom in all patients, though, is bradykinesia (slowness of movement), she noted.

Lather discussed how depression impacts patients’ lives and issued a reminder to those who have it.

“It’s a symptom of the disease and that’s what keeps you from doing what you need to do,” she said. “It’s not anything you’ve done.”

An estimated 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s, and more than 10 million people live with it worldwide.

There is no cure for PD, but medication can alleviate symptoms, with each patient working with doctors to find a care plan that best suits their needs.

For example, MacNutt is unable to take one of the staple medications many patients take for PD.

Lather emphasized how “exercise is disease modifying.”

MacNutt is no stranger to exercise. She works with a personal trainer, does physical therapy and plays pickle ball twice a week.

In addition, her jobs as municipal agent in Bridgewater and with the NMVNA keep her mind active.

“I’m not allowing this disease to slow me down,” MacNutt said confidently. “It hasn’t taken over my life. I’m still the master of what I do and don’t do…It hasn’t affected my life in any way, shape or form.”

Individuals who have symptoms should always check in with their doctors.

PD patients see a neurologist and/or a movement disorder specialist.

A movement disorder specialist is a neurologist who has additional training in PD and other movement disorders.

In her role for the ADPA — of which she is only one of 22 in the nation — Lather can be a resource for individuals who are looking for referrals, information and connections with doctors and therapists.

As the disease progresses, various forms of therapy may be necessary. She can help patients navigate their way to find resources that will help them.

The Greater New Milford Parkinson’s Support Group — open to individuals with Parkinson’s — will meet the second Wednesday of each month from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. at the senior center starting Oct. 9. Caregivers are welcome to participate in activities downtown or at the center while their loved one attends the group, or attend the center’s Caregivers Support Group, which meets the first and third Thursday of each month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the center. For more information, call the senior center at 860-355-6075.

Scheduling for the senior center bus is required at least three days in advance by calling 860-355-6075. There is a suggested donation of $1 per way; there is no additional fee if an aide/companion accompanies them.