Cover, Control, Contain: Navigating the Holidays with Parkinson’s

With climbing COVID-19 numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not traveling for the holidays. If you are planning to visit members of your family this holiday season, we have information and planning tips to help get you through the rest of this year.

On November 12, Michael S. Okun, MD, Parkinson’s Foundation National Medical Director, led our Facebook Live event “Navigating Parkinson’s and COVID-19.” Dr. Okun highlighted tips for the PD community to survive and to thrive during the 2020 holiday season.

OkunQuestion: What advice would you give for those living with chronic conditions like Parkinson's disease (PD) this holiday season, especially when holding family gatherings?

Dr. Okun: Follow the three C’s all holiday season, and well into 2021:

  • Cover. Always wear a two- or three-ply face mask (like a surgical mask) when you are around others or in public. Don’t wear bandanas or gaiter face coverings.
  • Control. Control your environment. If possible, attend holiday gatherings or family events outdoors. It is safer to not be in close proximity to others indoors.
  • Contain. Keep your gatherings to 10 people or less. Walk or sit six feet or more away to eat or drink. Don’t take your mask off to eat or drink around people who don’t live with you (in your house).

Should I get the flu shot?

COVID-19 or not, get the flu shot. Our hospital and other hospitals are seeing people who can get COVID-19 and the flu together, a potentially deadly combination. I advise every patient to take the flu shot.

What unique considerations should people with PD and their families keep in mind to celebrate the holidays?

First, follow the 3 Cs. Next, if you travel, try to travel by car. Getting on airplanes can add another layer of risk. If you want to be extra cautious, wait out the holidays this year. Keep in mind that research already shows that people with chronic diseases (like Parkinson’s and diabetes) have a hard time recovering from COVID-19. It is important that you treat this virus with gravity and seriousness.

Should I travel by plane?

COVID-19 numbers are high right now and air travel may not be the best idea. If you plan to travel by plane, remember that planes have closed environments. Keep your mask on, consider wearing two masks (or a N95 mask), try to keep a distance from others and wear protective eye wear (not just glasses).

Does cold weather make Parkinson’s symptoms worse?

Stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and cold weather can all make PD symptoms worse. Stay warm. Keep in mind that when you are bundled up and wearing your mask, sometimes you can’t see your feet, which can make people with balance issues prone to falling. Curbs, uneven or icy surfaces can be particularly tricky for people with Parkinson’s, so when outdoors hold on to your loved one to stabilize yourself.

I have Type I diabetes and Parkinson’s. Anything I should keep in mind for the holidays?

Having both makes it more difficult to recover from COVID-19. If you have either one, and especially both, be extra careful when thinking of attending holiday gatherings. Consider wearing a double mask (or N95) and follow the three C’s. The CDC has asked that the public not buy up all the N95 masks unless someone is at a high risk.  If you buy a N95 mask you should contact your local hospital to do a fitting and see if it is appropriate for the contours of your face.

familyCan I catch COVID-19 through a holiday meal?

You can safely eat food that others have cooked. If you eat takeout food, we are not seeing a lot of hard evidence that food packages can transmit the virus to you. Nonetheless, to be safe, before serving food, place it on another plate or in another bowl and wash your hands.

What should I do if I have an immune deficiency syndrome and also have Parkinson’s?

Talk to your doctors, but in this scenario, you may want to take the extra precaution of staying home this holiday season. Your doctor can outline a risk benefit ratio for you.

Do you have any tips for managing depression, demoralization and loneliness during the holidays?

People with Parkinson’s are already apt to experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and demoralization. The holidays can exacerbate any of these Parkinson’s related symptoms. Additionally, more than half of caregivers experience caregiver strain. These are all issues we need to do a better job addressing. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your doctor. You may have medication options available that can help. 
  • Stay engaged. The Parkinson’s Foundation PD Health @ Home program has a steady stream of new weekly events you can attend online.
  • Try new things. There are a lot of guided meditation and stress management programs out there. There is even guided meditation through a virtual reality machine called an Oculus.
  • Virtually volunteer. If you do not plan on leaving the house, look for ways you can volunteer virtually through local PD programs or the Parkinson’s Foundation. Learn more at Parkinson.org/Volunteer.

Are you excited about the COVID-19 vaccine?

If one of the vaccines reported in the news is 90-95% effective, then it will be more effective than we hoped. We need the data and we need more details before making a judgement. There will be a few types of vaccines and we are excited to see the data, which will soon be publicly available. The top scientists in the world will be looking at this data. We want to observe how certain age groups and people with chronic illnesses do after receiving the vaccine. The real takeaway is, if your doctor or a medical expert is taking the vaccine, then you should probably follow. With or without a vaccine, the most important thing you can do is wear a mask.

Remember that wearing a mask throughout the entire holiday season and beyond will be necessary to get us out of this pandemic as fast as possible (with or without a vaccine). Research has already shown us that if everyone wears a mask, we can protect one another and minimize the spread (e.g. examples from other countries). Stay safe and healthy this holiday season.

For Parkinson’s information, references to online programs and local resources, along with support, please contact the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).

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