Holidays are inherently stressful. Add a neurologic condition to the mix, and the stress can be overwhelming. We spoke with several experts, who offer these tips to patients and caregivers for making celebrations more manageable so everyone can enjoy their time together.
1. Adjust expectations. The holidays do not have to be exactly how they were before a diagnosis, says Monica Moreno, director of early-stage initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago. Be open to doing less, modifying traditions, or delegating more. Save your energy for quality time with friends and family.
2. Keep a checklist on your smartphone. After writing down everything you think you have to do, look at it again and see what you can skip, ask someone else to do, or simplify. Two free apps can help: Todoist (http://todoist.com) and Any.do (http://any.do).
3. Order gifts online. Shopping online is especially helpful for people who are fatigued by the noise and crowds of stores and malls and those who have trouble getting around or who can't drive. Online shops can wrap and mail gifts and help you find exactly what you're looking for. If you get tired and take a break, the site often reminds you where you left off, including what remains in your shopping cart.
4. Consider gift cards. Gift cards, which can be used like a credit card, are usually available at chain stores or online. Through the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks websites, for example, you can send a card directly to someone's smartphone. Most cards come in little folders so you can add a personal note. Gift cards for drugstores, supermarket chains, or even gas stations can be a way to help someone who might be short on cash celebrate the holidays.
5. Simplify recipes. If you like to cook and know you can't make the feasts you once did, simplify the dish to get a similar effect with less work. For seared turkey, for example, try oven-baking the same ingredients instead of standing over the stove browning the meat, which can be hard on the back and difficult if you have poor balance. To make sweet potatoes, use frozen sweet potatoes or microwave the spuds. Search “food hacks” or “recipe hacks” online to find shortcuts that will reduce preparation time. Type in “easy recipe makeovers” for simplified versions of holiday favorites.
6. Add more spice. If you or other guests have a diminished sense of taste because of a neurologic condition, put more emphasis on texture, spices, and presentation, says Robert Devere, MD, FAAN, director of the Smell and Taste Disorders Clinic in Lakeview, TX, and coauthor of Navigating Smell and Taste Disorders, a book in the American Academy of Neurology's Neurology Now Books series (http://bit.ly/NN-SmellTaste). If you're serving turkey, for example, stuff it with onions, garlic, and herbs or apples, oranges, and apricots, and season the skin with coarsely ground pepper, sea or kosher salt, and garlic powder, he suggests. If you're preparing a ham, add a maple brown sugar glaze and push whole garlic cloves into the fat side of the ham before baking to increase the aroma and flavor.
7. Download a car-hailing app. If driving or taking public transportation is exhausting and the distances are not too great, consider apps such as Lyft or Uber, which let you hail a car from your smartphone, track arrival and travel time, and estimate your travel costs. Haven't used the apps before? Ask a relative or friend for a tutorial.
8. Pace yourself. “Be mindful of how much your body and mind can handle,” says Lindsey Elliott, director of member initiatives for the United Spinal Association in Kew Gardens, NY, which merged with the Brain Injury Association of America. “If you feel yourself running low on energy, excuse yourself and take a break,” she says.
9. Don't neglect your medication. Get in the habit of carrying your medication with you when you go to parties, dinners, or religious services to keep from delaying or missing doses. Many pharmacy chains have tiny pill pouches you can tuck in a pocket.
10. Schedule a support group meeting. “Support groups can be a great help during the holidays or immediately afterward so you have an outlet for anything that didn't—or did—go well,” says Moreno.
11. Say thank you. A simple word of thanks to everyone you see around the holidays—bus drivers, waitresses, anyone who holds a door—will generate smiles and likely a good mood for yourself and everyone around you.