December 14, 2022 | by Sarah Watts. Illustration by Jeannie Phan. Republished with permission from Brain & Life Magazine
A message from IAES Blog staff:
The holidays are a busy time for everyone. For those of us with neurological issues and for those that care for us, this busyness may seem overwhelming at times. In 2021 Brain & Life magazine published an article that may make one part of the holiday season a small bit easier and much more fun. They published an article that provides a fun and useful list of gifts for those with neurological issues. It is our sincere hope you find this as helpful as we have!
Thoughtful Holiday Gifts for People with Neurologic Conditions
Our guide makes gift-giving a cinch—and fun.
If you ask John Andrejack, a 53-year-old college professor from New York City, what he wants for the holidays, a massage is at the top of his list. It’s the kind of gift that’s personal, he says, but also practical: It helps with the muscle aches that are a symptom of his Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosed at the age of 47, Andrejack has had several holiday seasons when friends and family wanted to give him something both meaningful to his personality and appropriate for his condition, but it’s not easy. This is mainly, Andrejack says, because Parkinson’s disease and other neurologic conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, tremor, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (MS) vary so much from person to person.
“What might be really useful for someone might not necessarily be wanted by someone else,” says Erin Cecchi, MSW, LCSW, senior program coordinator and clinical social worker at Northwestern University’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center in Chicago.
But the possibilities are expanding. As the number of Americans living with a neurologic disease increases (that number is now 25 million, according to a report in Annals of Neurology), companies are responding with suitable products and services.
Here are some gift ideas from people who know: neurologists on the editorial board of Brain & Life, physical and occupational therapists, and patients like Andrejack.
Gifts for the Home
Soft, slippery sheets make it easier to move around in and get out of bed. (amazon.com, bedbathandbeyond.com, sheex.com, target.com, thecompanystore.com, walmart.com)
These can deflect anxiety and stress. “The heavy feeling of a weighted blanket can be calming and help a person feel safe and comfortable,” says Cecchi. (amazon.com, gravityblankets.com, sensacalm.com, sleepnumber.com, walmart.com, yaasa.com)
Heated blankets or vests.
“Many patients with neurologic conditions have trouble regulating their temperature,” says JoEllyn Fox, DPT, lead therapist at the Dan Aaron Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center at the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. This is especially true for people with MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease. Blankets and vests help stabilize body temperature. (amazon.com, ororowear.com, walmart.com)
“Typically, people with Parkinson’s disease have a stooped or forward-flex posture that puts strain on their muscles,” says Chelsea Richardson, PT, DPT, a board-certified neurologic clinical specialist and clinical director at Re+active PT in Los Angeles. Support wedges, roller pillows, and foam leg supports can relieve the aches and pains. “I definitely recommend them for my patients with lower back pain.” (amazon.com, helixsleep.com)
Blue light glasses.
“Light sensitivity is common after a concussion or stroke,” says Richardson. This is true for many types of light and frequencies, including sunlight and computer screens. By blocking out blue light, the specialized glasses can alleviate sensitivity and headaches. (eyebuydirect.com, felixgray.com, warbyparker.com)
“Specialized equipment for the kitchen is always a welcome gift for people with neurologic conditions who love to cook and bake,” says Fox. The rocking knife is designed to cut food with a back-and-forth motion and is perfect for those who can’t use a knife and fork because of tremor or muscle fatigue. A pizza cutter is another option. (amazon.com)
They’re lighter than traditional blenders and require only one hand to operate, so they’re good for those with impaired dexterity. (kohls.com, target.com, walmart.com)
Weighted utensils and adaptive gadgets.
Many kitchen utensils are available in heavier-than-normal models for people with dexterity problems. They can help offset tremors associated with Parkinson’s, Richardson says. Adaptive versions of gadgets like electric can openers, vegetable choppers, and apple slicers get the job done with just one hand, which could be useful for a person with a fine motor deficit. (amazon.com, rehabmart.com, rehab-store.com, specialsupplies.com, thewrightstuff.com)
Bowls and plates with feet that grip the surface and shapes that make it easier to scoop food are helpful for stroke survivors and others who may have weakness on one side. (amazon.com, ncmedical.com)
Silicone place mats and stabilized cutting boards.
Place mats prevent plates from slipping, and stable cutting boards make chopping vegetables safer and easier. (amazon.com)
A brightly colored ring-shaped accessory made of silicone, the Staybowlizer holds bowls firmly in place so there’s less tipping or spillage while preparing meals. “From an occupational therapy standpoint, these compensate for extra movement like tremor,” Fox says. (amazon.com, staybowlizer.com)
Gifts For Daily Living
Electric Toothbrushes Or Shavers.
Since these devices do most of the work, they can be helpful for people with tremor or impaired dexterity. An electric shaver can prevent cuts. (amazon.com)
Constipation is often one of the earliest nonmotor symptoms for people with Parkinson’s disease, says Richardson. The Squatty Potty footstool positions the body optimally, and it comes in newer styles made of Lucite or bamboo. (squattypotty.com)
Raised toilet seats.
“If you have muscle weakness, it may be difficult to stand up from lower surfaces, such as toilets,” Richardson says. “A raised toilet seat promotes independence by allowing people to get on and off the toilet more easily.” (walgreens.com)
Slip-on shoes and accessories.
Brands like Kizik, Zeba, and Billy Footwear offer shoes that are easy to put on—and stylish. A long shoehorn can help with lace-up shoes, and a sock assist makes putting on socks a lot easier. (billyfootwear.com, kizik.com, zebashoes.com)
These snug yet stretchy items can ease neuropathy, reduce temperature sensitivity, and prevent muscle cramping, says Cecchi. (affordablecompressionsocks.com, bombas.com)
Tommy Hilfiger, MagnaReady, and Silverts are some brands that make clothing with Velcro closures instead of buttons. “And it really looks good now,” Fox says. (magnaready.com, silverts.com, usa.tommy.com)
Signing important documents can be time-consuming and frustrating for people with impaired fine motor skills. Signature stamps can solve the problem. (simplystamps.com, vistaprint.com)
Digital notepads are made just for writing (or drawing), not internet and app use, and they easily erase messages. That makes them ideal for people who have trouble speaking but can still write, says Cecchi, who uses one in her clinic. (mobiscribe.com, myboogieboard.com, target.com, walmart.com)
Many stroke survivors experience aphasia, which impairs all aspects of language—speaking, listening, reading, and writing—and renders communication almost impossible. Picture dictionaries such as This, Please!: The Tourist Picture Dictionary and Point It: Traveller’s Language Kit are invaluable resources, allowing people to point to what they’re trying to say rather than verbalize it. (amazon.com)
For those who can speak but have difficulty writing, consider this electronic solution. (livevox.com, dolbeyspeech.com, talkatoo.com)
Weighted pens make writing easier for those with tremors. Writing grips, lined sticky notes, and wrist braces also improve the ability to write. (rehab-store.com, walmart.com)
An electronic “virtual assistant” that responds to spoken instructions to play music or turn on and off lights may help with communication and voice modulation, Fox says. (amazon.com)
Gifts for Getting Around
For people with mild walking impairments, a personalized or attention-grabbing cane might be a fun gift, especially if the recipient associates it with more independence or a higher quality of life, says Fox. “It’s important to connect the cane with an added benefit such as getting out to visit a friend.” Some canes even have a built-in GPS navigation system, which can be very handy, says Andrejack. (walmart.com, amazon.com, myrmsstore.com)
Lift chairs and transport chairs and boards.
These are vital but expensive, so consider offering to share some of the cost. But first check with the recipient to see if these items are covered by insurance through durable medical equipment benefits. If recipients already have these devices, make them more personal and fun with light-up wheels, stickers, or monograms for chairs. (amazon.com, sitnstand.com, walmart.com)
Reachers and grabbers.
These devices help access items in hard-to-reach areas, especially for people in wheelchairs or at risk for falling. (amazon.com, carewell.com, myrmsstore.com, walmart.com)
These small, portable levers wedge into the latches of car door frames, making it easier to get in and out of vehicles. (amazon.com, mdmaxx.com, medicalsupplydepot.com)
Car handlebars and car caddies.
These are additional devices that help people get into and out of cars with less effort. (amazon.com, braunability.com, homedepot.com, mdmaxx.com, medmart.com, mobilityworks.com)
Combine the gift of a meal at the recipient’s favorite restaurant with a seat lift for the person’s car, says Fox. “Recipients may enjoy the prospect of a dinner more, knowing they can transfer from car to restaurant easily,” she says. (braunability.com, lifewaymobility.com, sitnstand.com)
Gifts for Fitness
If going to the gym is not feasible, book a session with a personal trainer who has experience working with clients who have the same condition as the person to whom you’re giving this gift. Reach out to the recipient’s doctor or physical therapist, if possible, for trainer recommendations.
Exercise is crucial for people with neurologic disorders, says Richardson, since it increases dopamine, a neurochemical that affects movement, mood, and coordination. (A loss of dopamine can make exercise difficult due to apathy, muscle weakness, fatigue, or poor coordination.) A gym membership can be motivating, especially when the gift giver commits to going too!
“Walking sticks improve stability and posture,” says Richardson. They also can increase arm swing and stride length in people with Parkinson’s disease. (kuiu.com, llbean.com, rei.com)
Being stuck at home during the pandemic worsened symptoms for many of Fox’s patients. A fitness tracker can motivate people to move, indoors and out. Fox suggests including a homemade coupon with the tracker that can be redeemed for setting up the tracker. (apple.com, bestbuy.com, koretrakpro.io, target.com, walmart.com)
A set of dumbbells or a floor or hand cycle allows people to exercise at home, which is important for immunocompromised and other vulnerable patients who still may be avoiding the gym, says Fox. Just be sure the recipient doesn’t have a condition that precludes using the equipment, she says. (amazon.com, dickssportinggoods.com, walmart.com)
Gifts Outside the Box
Electronic or audiobooks.
E-books are lighter and more portable than traditional books, and audiobooks are ideal for people with vision problems. (audible.com, ebooks.com)
Digital music services.
“Music is so important, for everything from movement to mood,” says Fox. Creating personalized playlists or giving a gift subscription to a monthly music streaming service like Spotify encourages exercise, boosts mood, and triggers memories. (amazon.com, apple.com, idagio.com, pandora.com, spotify.com)
“Framed pictures are thoughtful, but for people whose fine motor skills have declined, they can be breaking hazards,” says Cecchi. “Photo albums work much better, or even individual prints of special photos that evoke fond memories.” Creative gift givers could design a digital or printed scrapbook. (mixbook.com, shutterfly.com, snapfish.com)
Create fun coupons with promises to clean out closets, take out the trash, mow the lawn, or cook a meal.
Days of beauty.
A certificate for a haircut and style may be a welcome gift, especially if you help make the appointment and drive the person to the salon.
Bring over takeout or homemade food for two to save your gift recipient the stress of cooking, and to provide company. Cecchi says, “This can be as simple as just bringing someone a milkshake,” which is both delicious and easy to swallow.
Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety and depression, says Fox. To get friends and loved ones started, consider app subscriptions, adult coloring books, or mindfulness workbooks.
For Richardson’s patients who have autonomic dysfunction—the body can’t regulate body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion—she uses a wearable biofeedback device called Lief that makes patients aware of erratic nervous system responses and teaches them corrective breathing exercises. It requires a monthly subscription, and users can return it when they’re done. (getlief.com)
You don’t want to give a gift that’s impractical or inappropriate, no matter who the recipient is. If it’s a person with a neurologic condition, certain gifts may be awkward, best shared privately, or better to be coordinated with the recipient’s physician.
A fruit basket or a box of candy is lovely—unless the recipient has problems with swallowing, as can happen with Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Items like dispensers, organizers, or pill caddies might feel impersonal or too condition-focused, says John Andrejack, a professor in New York City who has Parkinson’s disease.
Without fully understanding the recipient’s abilities and limitations, you might choose an event or excursion that could be stressful. Talk with the person and make plans together if a trip or a concert seems like a good gift idea, says JoEllyn Fox, DPT, lead therapist at the Dan Aaron Parkinson’s Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia.
“These can be so useful for people with Parkinson’s, but I wouldn’t want to get one for Christmas,” says Andrejack. That would make me extremely uncomfortable.”
Walkers or rollators.
“These gifts can be a bit like giving your mom a vacuum for Christmas,” says Fox. They can be practical, but not personal or exciting. And even though retailers like Amazon and Walmart stock them, many of these devices are better purchased through a doctor’s or physical therapist’s office, where they can be fitted properly.
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