The mobility problems associated with Parkinson’s can make it difficult to prepare and eat meals safely.

We’ve teamed up with Kelly Barmann, OTR/L to get her tips and advice to help people with Parkinson’s continue to cook and eat at home.

In this first article, Kelly talks to us about the role of an occupational therapist in helping people continue to cook at home and provides us with some tips for organizing your kitchen.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists (OTs) are rehabilitation professionals focused on helping people keep up with daily activities and work tasks. Often times we teach people news ways to compensate or creatively adapt their lives when injury or disease is present. OTs also focus strongly on healthy habit building, rehabilitating orthopedic injuries and providing mental health support.

How can occupational therapists help people with Parkinson’s?

OTs help people with Parkinson’s develop strategies and adaptations to continue performing daily activities, such as doing household chores, getting dressed and bathing, engaging in leisure activities and cooking and eating without assistance from others. We can help people with biomechanical strategies, cognitive functions and emotional well-being to support daily living. We can also teach people how to use adaptive tools to continue to safely perform activities such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. OTs focus on helping people stay engaged in their jobs, community, family and social life. Our services are very client-centered, meaning it is very individualized. We focus heavily around helping each person continue doing what they find meaningful.

Why is it important for people with Parkinson’s to continue to cook at home?

There are so many benefits to cooking at home. Meals prepared at home are often healthier. Cooking at home also helps people keep up with important life skills and overall mental health.

“Use it or lose it” is one of the principles of neuroplasticity. We need daily cognitive and physical stimulation or our abilities deteriorate over time, especially as we age. Our brain and body functions are incredibly responsive, especially to challenges. Even small daily living tasks like cooking and self-care can provide some physical and cognitive stimulation that will help maintain our functional capacity. The process of gathering and preparing food all requires mental stimulation, like problem solving, organizing and planning. These daily tasks also provide small doses of exercises in fine motor, gross motor, movement tolerance and functional mobility.

Another area of growth potential of cooking at home is dual tasking tolerance. In Parkinson’s there is decreased dopamine, which greatly affects movement, and the ability to do and delegate attention to two or more tasks at the same time. Preserving, maintaining and even enhancing dual tasking capacity is possible, and incredibly important. It will allow you to increase your ability to tolerate environmental distraction and build resilience to falls, which most often happens as a result of low dual tasking capacity.

There are also significant emotional benefits of keeping up usual daily tasks and resuming self-care and as many activities of daily living as you safely can. Small interactions and connections with humans have positive effects on mood and apathy. The positive benefits of being involved in gathering and preparing your food that nourishes you helps empower self-sufficiency and retain as much independence as possible.

What are some tips for organizing your kitchen so that it’s safer and easier to cook?

First of all, make sure your kitchen space is clear and safe:

  • Clear spaces and remove clutter on countertops or any possible trip hazards like rugs
  • Use bright colored tape to denote steps and variations in the floor
  • Use bright colored tape to see the edges of counters and floors
  • Check smoke/fire/carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they are up to date and working
  • Minimize distractions such as TV, radio and cell phones
  • Keep a chair handy for rest breaks
  • Then you can organize your kitchen to make it easier to gather items and use common tools:

  • Label your pantry, refrigerator and cupboards so that you can easily find items
  • Put commonly used items in places that are convenient and safe to get to, such as lower shelves of cabinets
  • Put commonly used tools within arms’ reach of where you’ll use them, such as spatulas near the stove, knives and cutting boards near your prep area, etc.
  • Store heavy items (pots and pans) in lower cabinets or in easy to reach places so that you don’t have to bend over and lift heavy items
  • Overall you want to make your environment relaxing, inviting and somewhere you can take your time to safely prepare a healthy meal to nourish your body.

    Next up: Tips for safe and efficient meal prep