Ask the MD: The Holidays and Parkinson's

by  Rachel Dolhun, MD,
December 21, 2017

The holidays can be fun, but they can also be stressful. For those with Parkinson's disease (PD), that stress can worsen symptoms. If you are traveling, shopping or visiting family, it can be challenging to fit in self-care. But that's when it's most important. A few tips for people with Parkinson's during the holidays:

Don't forget to exercise.
Regular activity is sometimes the first thing to drop off a full schedule, but exercise can boost your mood and help your sleep. Even 30 minutes of walking per day is beneficial. If you are visiting family or friends, make it a group activity!

Keep your usual sleep schedule.
Going to bed and getting up around the same general times (within an hour or two) will help keep you in the same routine of exercising, eating and taking your medication. It's okay to relax on vacation, but sticking close to your typical patterns will help you feel better in general.

Continue medications as prescribed.
Traveling long distances or switching time zones can make medication dosing confusing, but most doctors recommend that you stay on the same schedule. For example, if medication is prescribed every three hours and you're awake overnight (such as on a long flight), continue taking it every three hours. For once a day medications, you can take them at your regular time in the new time zone as long as you're not doubling up with the last dose you took at home. (For example, you'd take your regularly scheduled bedtime dose upon arriving to the West Coast after flying across the country unless you took a dose of that medication less than 24 hours prior.) Always consult with your personal doctor about your specific medication regimen.

Take an updated copy of your medication list and bring medications in their bottles in your carry-on when flying. A few weeks before leaving, check your medication supply. Notify your doctor and/or pharmacist if you need extra refills to cover the time you're away.

Stick to a healthy diet.
An abundance of Christmas cookies, cocktail parties and family dinners make it easy to eat and drink in excess. Of course you should enjoy treats in moderation, but for people with Parkinson's, a change in diet can have important effects. After big meals, especially protein-heavy ones, your medication may not work as well (meaning your symptoms may not be as well-controlled). You also may have constipation if you're not following your usual eating habits. (Make sure you drink enough water and eat lots of fiber-filled fruits, vegetables and whole grains.) And remember that your balance may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

Watch for confusion in unfamiliar environments.
People who have memory problems or dementia may be prone to confusion in new or different surroundings, such as crowded shopping malls or a relative's home. If you care for someone with memory changes, you may want to pay extra attention in these situations.

Much of this advice applies to daily life with Parkinson's, but it's key during busy times like the holidays. Pay attention to your feelings and needs so you can enjoy any time you celebrate with family and friends

TAGS: Ask the MD

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