How Cool Are You?

Summer is fast approaching, so now is a perfect time to remind everyone about MSAA’s Cooling Program.

As the heat starts to build, so do requests for this free MSAA service, so please place your order now before the summer rush. Please know that there is a five-year wait period to reorder any cooling products if you have already received items through the MSAA Cooling Program.

You can download the MSAA Cooling Program application or call MSAA at (800) 532-7667, ext. 130 to request an application by mail. Have a cool and fun summer!

Not eligible to apply for MSAA’s Cooling Program? The following Stay Cool Tips can be used to help fight the heat:

  • Portable or personal fans are an inexpensive and quick way to cool the body. The fan helps to circulate the hot air and move it away from the body.
    • Try putting a cool rag in front of the fan to circulate the cold condensation from the rag.
  • Be mindful of clothing choices. Wear lightweight and loose clothing that allow for air circulation.
    • Embrace light colors. Dark colors absorb light and heat, light colors reflect light.
  • Search for indoor activities in local shopping malls or stores where air conditioning is always free.
    • Window shopping at the mall or a mid-day matinee at the movie theatre is a great way to take advantage of the often cool air provided at these locations.

Cool Summer Activities

As most schools around the country end their school year, many parents are finding themselves searching for activities that will preoccupy their children, but that are also accessible for the whole family. While many folks may opt for the parks or playgrounds in the warmer weather, individuals with MS may have to get creative to try and find activities that can be taken indoors during those warmer days to help avoid some of those heat-related symptoms.

But how can you entertain your children, before they tear through every cabinet in the household looking for something to do? Parents magazine provides some online fun activities that can be modified for any age group. Thinking about, or having a list of activities on hand may be helpful for days where MS symptoms are present, or fatigue has taken a toll.

Local programs are also available to children during the summer months. Many of these activities can be completed indoors to help beat the heat. Local libraries may have reading programs or special events; often they post these on their social events calendar or on a bulletin board in the lobby. Stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Joann Fabrics have free workshops available for families or children; you can call around to local stores to see if a calendar or events listing are made available.

Get creative this summer and see what fun activities you can find that can be completed indoors. Do you have any cool plans this summer?


Things to Consider for Summer Traveling

It’s here again – the summer season is upon us! Though for some people it actually may feel like it’s been here for quite a while depending on where you live. But the recent Memorial Day holiday really kicked off the start of the season for most around the country. With the arrival of summer some people start making travel plans and agendas for how to spend these months. Trying to schedule a trip can be stressful, and for those traveling with a disability or chronic illness, the planning process can be extra demanding. Ensuring certain accommodations are in place, scheduling stops and making arrangements for accessible travel are some of the necessary steps to take when planning a trip. Here are some things to consider in the planning phase:

Where are you going?

  • If they are needed – does your destination have disability accommodations? Like accessible bathrooms and sleeping areas, accessible activities/restaurants/shopping/travel routes within the town? It may help to call hotels and destinations beforehand to ensure their facilities meet your needs. This can help to decrease the stress of arriving at your destination and not having what you need to enjoy your trip.

What will you need for your trip?

  • Packing necessities like toiletries is just one part of the process. Having the appropriate amount of medications/treatments, equipment, and other products is important to ensure you won’t be left without something significant for your health condition while you’re away.

Who can you contact for help?

  • While planning a trip you will find there are resources available that can help you with the process. For example, you can work with a travel agent who specializes in accessible and disability travel that has knowledge on how to find locations and services that are accommodating for your requests. You can also get in touch with disability organizations and resources in the area where you’ll be traveling for additional assistance regarding local services and what’s available. Websites like Disabled Travelers and Access-Able Travel Source can provide information for accessible travel needs as well.

Do you have plans for the summer? What does your planning process look like?


Tips for Staying Organized

Organization is a personal character trait; to some it comes naturally, to others it is a struggle. One thing is certain; organization is about finding a system that works for you. There is no need to justify something that works to your benefit, regardless of other opinions of that system.

Consistency is one of the more important factors when discussing organization and managing one’s life. They say it takes 21-days or three weeks to make a habit. This may be true for some, but it is stressful to think about counting down 21 days just to find some level of consistency in a routine.

For those who struggle with being organized, or feel that they need more organization to help with day to day activities, the following suggestions or tips may be helpful:

Sort at the Source:
Stay on top of mail and paperwork as it comes through the door. Sort through the junk mail and place it in the trash or recycle bin. Place bills or other important documents in a space that is meaningful for you, and where you will know where to find them when needed.

Put it Away:
It sounds like something you would tell a child, but this simple step can help those who seem to misplace items. You are more than likely to remember where something should be, but is it in its place when you go to look for it? When you are done with an item, put it back in its place. When items get left out of place, they can easily be lost.

Allow Plenty of Time:
When we are rushed, mistakes can happen or things can get lost. Allow yourself plenty of time to complete a task and complete one task at a time. Time management and organization often go hand in hand.

What tips or suggestions do you have regarding organization? Have you found a process that works for you?


Keeping Track of Your MS

We all trust and hope that medical providers keep accurate records and maintain documentation in an orderly fashion. But things happen – papers get misplaced, lost, or destroyed and when this happens, the patient suffers.

So what can be done in advance to reduce the chances of this negative effect?

Keeping track of your medical records is the best way to assure that the information about your MS treatment stays organized. However, this can mean different things to different people. Finding a way to organize and keep your medical records in a way that makes sense to you is important.

Some individuals may find sorting records by year helps to track progression or change over time. While others prefer to sort based on testing or specialty, tracking things such as MRI results, bloodwork, or therapy. No one way is better than another. It is about finding a way that makes sense to you and one that will help you along the way.

Take into account the type of materials needed to organize your medical records. Three-ring binders are helpful in securing documents, making sure they stay in place and are not easily lost. Dividers and tabs can be used to distinguish a change in the record, whether it’s a year, type of test, or doctor. Labels written on with dark marker can be placed on the outside of a binder to help identify what is inside.

Depending on the size of your medical record, bring the record with you to an appointment. It can be used as a reference with the doctor, or can be a place to take notes during a visit. After the appointment, ask the office staff to make a copy of any records discussed at the time of the appointment and place them into the organized medical record.

By keeping track of your medical records, you are taking an active role in your health care. In which way do you keep track of your MS? Which system works best for you?


We need a clean-up on aisle 7…

Sometimes it is easy to decide when to let something go. When a child outgrows his/her clothes or toys it may be easy to identify that those items would better serve someone else and then look to donate or trash/recycle the items based on their wear.

Other times it may be much harder to identify what needs to stay and what needs to go such that the clutter and chaos of too many “things” begins to build. It might be the clothes you were hanging onto in case you lost/gained some weight, not knowing which financial statements or receipts are important to hold onto, or it might even be the gifts and knickknacks which looked so cute when they were received but have never found a home on your shelves. For many people it is a combination of different types of clutter which may cause of sense of dread or feeling of being overwhelmed with not knowing how to get started with the clean-up.

Whatever is muddling up your life try the following tips to get started in clearing out the clutter:

1. Create a list. Compartmentalize where the problems lie so you can create a plan of action for how to deal with them.
2. Identify why you have held onto the items. Sometimes items hold sentimental value, monetary value, or serve a specific purpose and must be retained (i.e. tax papers).
3. Decide which task to tackle first and set a timeline.
4. Ask for help (sometimes it takes a helping hand to sort things out).
5. Get to work! Start on your first goal area with a keep, organize/file, and trash/recycle pile.
6. Don’t beat yourself up if the clean-up isn’t happening as quickly as you wanted.

Taking pro-active steps to clear out the clutter can help in the long run to reduce stress levels and help you to live a simpler life.


Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at :


Having a Stress-Free Holiday Season When You Have MS

By: Jeri Burtchell

Each year, I judge how well prepared I am for the holidays by the way Halloween plays out. When I saw my son donning the same scary mask we bought several years ago, I realized I’m as ill-prepared as ever. We’re lucky it still fits, I think to myself as holiday dread settles squarely on my shoulders.

The problem with his costume is not that we aren’t creative, it’s just that life is busy and time slips through our fingers like greased marbles these days. We end up making last minute plans and this Halloween was no exception: get the plastic pumpkin off the top of the fridge and start searching the house for that mask (two hours before Trick-or-Treat officially kicks off). I’m not creating the perfect childhood memories for my son, I fret to myself as I look under the bed for the face from Scream.

The limitations that my MS fatigue and reduced walking ability have placed on me are showing. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with the same enthusiasm as I once did. I’m filled with angst as part of me wants the ultimate “joyful” experience, while the other part just wants it all to be over.

But the holiday season is stressful for everyone. The difference is some people thrive on the stress, which they call “anticipation.” But others like myself are filled with dread. Ever since I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 it seems like I stopped looking forward to the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day. I think it’s because I worry about stress triggering a relapse. And then part of me feels guilty because the children in the family aren’t getting the full “magical” experience.

While I do face physical challenges, my MS isn’t the only factor shaping our family holidays. Mom is 91, and though she’s still undeniably the sharpest knife in the drawer, she doesn’t get around as easily as she once did. Still other family members are living with everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes which influences the dinner menu.

But we are managing. Together our family is learning to adjust to our new collective “normal”. We’re redefining what our get-togethers look like. The emphasis is on comfort and ease while downplaying commercialism. So what if the tree isn’t up or we don’t have a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings? We can define the celebration on our own terms.

The holiday dinners will be potluck so that we can each focus on one dish and prepare it ahead of time. Nobody will be banished to the kitchen and make-ahead dishes can be prepared when the cook (or baker) is feeling up to it.

With dinner prepared in advance, we’ll be free to enjoy each other’s company. The conversations, the laughs, the squealing children, and the photo ops will fill our memories of the day.

If Mom has to take a nap or I have to go lay down for a while, that’s okay. Everyone knows we both have our limits.

At Thanksgiving we’ll draw names for Christmas gift giving. Everyone ends up with a present but only shops for one person instead of ten. With a $20 limit and the convenience of online shopping, we can eliminate the stress of holiday crowds. We’re trying to make it more about the get-together and less about “what-did-I-get?”

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve come to learn a lot about managing my MS. I need plenty of rest, I need to eat right, and I need to exercise. But it’s just as important to reduce the stress in my life. Not only is it bad for MS, but for everyone’s health in general. By reducing the amount of effort (and stress) it takes to pull off a family gathering, we’re really looking out for our health.

The holidays should be about family, love, togetherness, and appreciation for every positive thing in our lives.

So when next year rolls around and my son is reaching for the same old scary mask at Halloween, I’m going to go a little easier on myself. The mask can be a new tradition, a symbol of how we can let go of society’s expectations. It will signal the start of a stress-free holiday season and–with the help of my family–I know we can do this!


*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.


Planning for a Stress-Free Holiday

With Thanksgiving a little over a week away, many families have already started planning for the holiday season. Who is hosting, who’s making the turkey, and who will be opening their home to holiday guests this season? As if the actual day wasn’t hectic enough, with the shuffling around of foods, the constant chatter, and all of the hugs and kisses; why stress this upcoming week in preparation?

The following tips may help keep this holiday season a little less stressful:

1. Make a plan: Start by listing out each of the tasks that need to be accomplished. Breaking them down into groups can help keep things organized (i.e. cleaning, shopping, cooking).

2. Ask for help: Be prepared to delegate tasks to others. Go through the list and identify tasks that can easily be accomplished by someone else. Family and friends are usually asking, “What can we do or what can we bring?” Use this opportunity to check something off that list.

3. Practice self-care: Take breaks throughout the day; do not push through to finish a check list. Find a good mix of tasks that you enjoy with ones that are less pleasurable; when it comes down to choosing one or the other, always choose the one that makes you happy.

In what ways do you plan for a stress-free holiday?


Some Extra Holiday Help

There is no doubt that the holidays are rapidly approaching these days, especially with cooler temps across the country and decorations filling the stores as continuous reminders. While this time of year translates into joy and cheer for most, for some individuals this may represent a time when some extra help is needed to make the holiday special. Financial difficulties can make expectations of the holidays a struggle, but it’s important to know that there are resources available that may help support your holiday activities, and therefore lift some of the stress that can accompany these festivities. The following community resources may offer help through the holidays:

  • Salvation Army offices offer seasonal services and holiday assistance programs to help families in need with holiday dinners, toys, and clothing. Search for your local office to inquire about direct programs and services and application time frames.
  • The United Way can offer information and referrals for holiday assistance programs in your community.
  • Contact the county department of family/social services in your area, as their office may have additional holiday assistance and resources available.
  • The Toys for Tots Program provides new, unwrapped toys during the holidays to children in need through community outreach and support efforts.
  • Local religious organizations may offer seasonal assistance as well, though these programs can vary based on location. Contact the groups directly to inquire of services available.

Many community assistance programs have specific application deadlines and requirements in order to receive holiday assistance by a certain time. Be sure to reach out to the resources to see what’s available in your area and how to apply. Some extra holiday help can go a long way!