Many may take it for granted that they can easily whip up a hearty dinner for the whole family or a simple, nutritious snack for one. For people who have multiple sclerosis (MS), the act of cooking may be one of the activities that becomes challenging over time. Rebecca Thomasson, an occupational therapist at the Shepherd Center MS rehabilitation and wellness program in Atlanta, says there are several different components that make the ability to cook challenging for people with MS.
MS is characterized as an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, optic nerves, and the spinal cord. Inflammation that is caused by MS damages the myelin sheath that protects nerves and allows for the efficient communication between the brain and the body. The symptoms of MS can have devastating effects on the entire body. Some of the more common symptoms or related conditions of MS include problems with cognition (such as slowed thinking skills), extreme fatigue, vision problems (partial blindness, blurry vision, or double vision), mood dysfunctions (anxiety and depression), and problems with the muscles (rigidity, pain, neuropathy, weakness, or lack of coordination).
The muscle problems associated with MS may lead to patients having a difficult time executing fine motor skills (use of fingers and hands), as well as trouble using the arms, maintaining balance, and trouble standing or walking. Some people with MS may also end up overheating, which can cause complications with and exacerbate the symptoms of MS.
An occupational therapist may help you to adapt your cooking skills and kitchen. A therapist can guide you through the entire process of cooking. Other professionals may help as well. For example, a speech therapist could help you work on the cognitive component of planning meals and executing tasks. While the physical therapist could work on mobility skills, a speech therapist could help teach about grocery shopping and choosing ingredients. One therapist has a full kitchen with a stove in her facility and she guides patients through the meal planning, takes them to the grocery store, and then teaches them how to cook within their limited capability.
The challenges brought about by MS might make the simple act of preparing food difficult, unfeasible or even dangerous. MS patients and providers offer the following problems and solutions for cooking with MS:
- If a patient experiences cognitive decline, they may have a difficult time planning meals, following recipes, and selecting ingredients. Solutions include using a phone or computer app that simplifies the meal choices. There are many apps available that can provide recipes based on available ingredients or supply you with a simple-to-follow list of ingredients that you need to purchase.
- Grocery shopping may be difficult or impossible due to the disability or fatigue that is often associated with MS symptoms. A solution may be to have groceries delivered by a company or a friend. There are even a few taxi companies that will agree to pick up a few items for a fee.
- The fatigue of MS can make cooking a daunting and draining task. You could conserve your energy by sitting on a stool while you prepare foods. You may also want to invest in a rolling cart that you can attach to your walker to push around the kitchen wherever you need. Also, even though you may be used to cooking everything from scratch, you may want to start trying out frozen or box dinners to find some that you like. If you feel more energetic on some days than others, you may want to cook your meals in large quantities and freeze portions to reheat later.
- Heat intolerance is common in patients with MS and standing over a hot stove may trigger the symptom. Combat the heat by using a fan, wearing a cooling vest, and sipping cold water. The ability to perform a task can be significantly increased if the body temperature is kept lower.
- Standing on your feet for long periods may cause back and muscle pain. Sit whenever possible, such as while peeling potatoes or slicing vegetables.
- Some people have a hard time using their hands and fingers, which can make it difficult to chop vegetables, strain pasta, hold kitchen tools, and open packages. Start shopping for adaptive equipment that can make your cooking activity easier on you. A silicone strainer might help with straining boiled pasta, while special scissors can help you open packages easier. Other adaptive tools include knives and peelers with improved handles, special gloves for gripping pot handles, and cutting boards that brace food and allow you to use one hand while chopping.
- If you regularly experience vision trouble, such as problems with depth perception, you may have a hard time seeing where your cooking tools and utensils are. Wear silicone gloves as protection for your hands in case you grab something hot and use brightly colored stickers on knobs and buttons so you can easily find them.
Parenting with MS
Every night Jana, 36, is exhausted long before bedtime. Not only does she work full time as a waitress, but she also has to pick up her two young sons from daycare and school. By the time dinner is done, she is exhausted and usually falls asleep on the couch.
As if it's not hard enough to be a working parent, Jana also has multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease without a cure. Dr. Lauren Krupp, a neurologist and director at the NYU Langone Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center says that parenting with a chronic illness that saps all of your energy means parenting with a major disadvantage.
Fatigue and extreme weakness are just two of the many debilitating symptoms of MS, which are all the results of the body attacking the myelin that protects the nerves and causes complications in communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The damages lead to many emotional, physical, and cognitive challenges that make everyday life more difficult.
Other symptoms of MS might include rigidity of the muscles, muscle weakness, coordination issues, problems using the hands or arms, trouble standing, trouble walking, bladder or bowel issues, vision problems, balance issues, and a tendency to overeat.
These symptoms can make every single aspect of parenting difficult, whether it's bathing a dressing a young child, or simply holding and feeding an infant. Parents with MS often have many struggles with taking care of their kids.
Parenting with MS requires a good game plan. Always remember to take care of yourself as a priority. It is very difficult to take care of others when you, yourself are lacking in basic self-care. Follow these tips to make parenting a little easier:
- Plan ahead. Try to plan activities for times when your energy is normally at its highest. This may mean preparing dinner in the morning and reheating it later or doing housework late at night.
- Prioritize. You may not be able to get everything on your to-do list done every day, and that's okay. Decide in advance how much of your energy that you will give to each activity each day. Determine which activities are the most important and give your all to only important things. This may mean forgoing laundry for a day in order to save enough energy for a tea party or walk to the park.
- Set realistic goals. Avoid over planning activities and getting yourself in situation that will only exhaust you. Agree with others and yourself to take a break every hour to rest and restore your energy.
- Use mobility devices. While you may be able to get around your home just fine without a walker, a wheelchair may help you conserve energy while venturing across a ballfield or grocery store.
- Inform others. Children can be amazingly understanding. Try talking to them and letting them know what your limitations are.
Godman, H. (2017, September 29). How to Cope When MS Affects Your Ability to Cook. [Web]. In U.S. News. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-09-29/how-to-cope-when-ms-affects-your-ability-to-cook
Godman, H. (2017, October 13). Raising Kids When You Have MS. [Web]. In U.S. News. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-10-13/raising-kids-when-you-have-multiple-sclerosis?int=healthcare-rec