How Christmas can still be Magical with Parkinson’s
Christmas should be a fun time of year for everyone, especially after the challenges we have faced in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s the perfect time to relax with loved ones and forget our troubles for a few days.
For people with the progressive neurological condition, Parkinson’s, Christmas can still be magical – although it takes a little special effort from loved ones. In the UK today, around 145,000 people live with Parkinson’s. The main symptoms include tremors, slow movement and muscle stiffness, but there are other symptoms too.
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It is caused when a person doesn’t have enough of the chemical dopamine, as some of the nerve cells that make it have died. Symptoms start to appear when the brain can no longer control a person’s movements properly, due to the lack of dopamine.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, although research is ongoing. Supportive treatments and therapies to improve quality of life include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, medication and in some cases, brain surgery.
How does Parkinson’s affect Christmas?
For someone with Parkinson’s, Christmas can present a lot of challenges, but with the right support, it’s still possible to have a very merry festive season. Christmas can be an overwhelming time, as there’s the prospect of limited medical support, extra food shopping and having more family members around you.
By taking a few simple steps, you can make this Christmas and New Year as easy and enjoyable as possible. The main thing is to plan ahead to ensure the festive season runs smoothly. One of the most important tasks is making sure you have enough medication to last for the whole of the holiday season. If you think there’s even a small chance you will run low, double-check the opening hours of your GP and pharmacist and order a prescription beforehand if you’re in any doubt.
Ask family and friends to help you out if there’s any extra work to be done to prepare for Christmas. If you have home care, make sure your carers are aware of your needs and plans for the holiday period.
When it comes to festive food, over-indulging on high-protein meals has the potential to reduce the effectiveness of some levodopa-based medications. The charity, Parkinson’s UK, suggests taking your medication half an hour before you eat to minimise the risks of problems.
It also advises that drinking alcohol in moderation is generally okay, as long as you don’t have any other medical issues. Should you become ill, there’s always help available, even over the holiday period, although the opening hours of your local medical services will be different from normal.
How should you prepare for Christmas?
Before Christmas, find out the opening hours of your GPs’ surgery, the telephone number of the out-of-hours service and the contact details and opening hours of any local emergency services, such as the walk-in centre. Remember, you can always contact the hospital’s A&E department, should there be a Christmas emergency, so you will never be alone.
When it comes to Christmas shopping, there are gifts and extra food to buy, so you might find it a slightly daunting prospect. For many, shopping online is the answer, but if you prefer the festive feel of the high street, find out if the store offers a delivery service for disabled customers. Alternatively, see if you can leave your purchases to collect later if you’ve picked up too much. Another useful tip is to use a rucksack-style bag, rather than store carrier bags, as it leaves both your hands free.
If you have a lot of Christmas cards to send out, try having some greetings labels printed off and stick them in the cards, rather than having to hand write them all. It makes your life easier and saves a lot of time.
How can you make the most of Christmas Day?
Pace yourself. If you have family and friends to help with the Christmas dinner, this is ideal. Otherwise, start preparing it the day before, cooking the turkey and chopping the vegetables on Christmas Eve. It can be too much to do all in one day.
If you’re going to someone else’s house, make sure you take everything you need with you, such as your own specialist cutlery or cup – people understand you have Parkinson’s and that you need certain support mechanisms.
When you’re dining with friends or family, you may find it preferable to eat your Christmas dinner in two sessions, to avoid the impact of one huge meal. Nobody will be offended if you leave some!
Is sleeping well over Christmas important?
People with Parkinson’s are likely to have sleep disorders. The most common issues include difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, talking or shouting while asleep, leg movements such as jerking and cramping and difficulties turning over in bed. Broken sleep can affect not only the person with Parkinson’s, but the whole family, leading to daytime sleepiness.
Christmas is a time when it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement, over-eating, drinking, spending more time with other people and staying up late. Unfortunately, this can cause greater sleeping problems for a person with Parkinson’s. The best tip is not to change your usual sleeping routine. Stick to your sleep schedule; go to bed at the usual time and get up at the same time. Try to spend seven to eight hours in bed every night.
Try to spend time outdoors each day, even if it’s chilly – a walk will suffice. The best time is in the morning. Avoid exercise after 8pm, as this could leave you too energised to sleep. Stick to your bedtime routine, whether it’s having a bath, or brushing your teeth last thing at night.
If you’ve been to family or friends for Christmas Day, it might be tempting to have a late night and sleep over. However, the combination of food, drink and general excitement may lead to a more disrupted night’s sleep, especially in a different bed.
It’s advisable to go home, particularly if you have a special bed that’s designed for people with Parkinson’s, as you’ll have a better night’s sleep and will awake feeling more refreshed for the next day.
What are the Christmas rules for care homes?
Even if you can’t spend Christmas with loved ones in person, there’s still an opportunity to get in touch with them. Video calls, using a service such as Zoom, mean people can still share the excitement of Christmas Day, such as grandparents watching the kids open their presents.
Unfortunately, if you have an older relative with Parkinson’s who lives in a care home in England, they can’t take part in the Christmas bubble system. The government has recommended younger care home residents of “working age” can possibly visit family members outside the home under certain circumstances.
With more than one million coronavirus tests being sent to care homes in England, it depends how efficiently they can be utilised. Family and friends may be able to visit loved ones if both parties test negative, regardless of the tier they are in.
Each resident may be able to receive up to two visitors, twice a week, as long as there hasn’t been an outbreak of coronavirus at the home. However, the situation over Christmas for care home residents is still very much a grey area and looks set to remain so until nearer the time.