The holidays are a special time of year when many people choose to give gifts to loved ones. If you have a loved one in your life that has dementia, coming up with an appropriate gift idea can sometimes be challenging. There is not a one-size-fits-all gift for people with dementia. Just as when you give a gift to any other individual, you’ll want to consider their personal preferences and historical interests when selecting a gift. You will also want to keep in mind their current abilities and make sure that you are choosing a gift that can safely be enjoyed.
Below are a few gift ideas divided by stages.
For a person that is in the early stages of dementia:
- Life Story Books – One of the best gifts that you can offer someone in the early stages of dementia, is an opportunity to tell their life story. The story telling can be either chronological, or a collection of important moments. You or other family members can set aside time to work with your loved one to create a scrapbook that tells the story of their life or to transcribe or record interviews of the person’s life stories. There are various programs and software available online that assist with this process as well.
- Gift Certificate for a massage (check with your loved one’s physician to make sure it is safe).
- Gift Certificates for Family Time – This could mean a trip to a favorite restaurant together or to other places that are not too over stimulating for the person with dementia (i.e. the Botanical Gardens or a favorite park).
- Exercise Class – Exercise is one of the best ways to stave off depression and stay healthy. Choose an exercise class that is both appropriate for the person’s physical abilities (check with their physician first) and their preferences. Make it an event to go to this class together. There are many options for low-impact exercise programs including yoga, chair exercise, laughter therapy, walking clubs, etc. so think outside the box!
For a person that is in the middle stages of dementia:
- Photo Albums – Photo albums can not only make a beautiful gift, but can also be a great activity of reminiscing. Try making photo albums that allow the person to tell the story of their life through pictures. Another idea is to make a Family Tree that includes photos that can stay on the wall, to help the person remember who is who.
- Squirrel/Bird Feeder – This is an especially good gift for the nature lover who doesn’t get to go outside often. Place the feeder right outside of a window by the bed or favorite chair so that they can easily watch.
- Music – Music is enjoyed by most throughout all stages of dementia. Get an easy 2-button CD player and make sure you’re giving music that the person enjoys the most!
- Medic-Alert/Safe-Return ID Bracelet – This is a great time to give someone who has dementia the gift of safety! Enroll your loved one in the Safe Return program through your local Alzheimer’s Association (especially if they have a tendency to wander) and give them their ID bracelet as a gift!
For a person that is in the later stages of dementia:
- Sensory Engagement: During the later stages of dementia a good guide is to help people engage their senses. Some ideas for that include
- Sound: As mentioned above, music and rhythm can be enjoyed by most throughout all stages of dementia. Be sure to choose the type of music that your loved one has enjoyed in the past.
- Smell: If your loved one’s sense of smell is still intact, try getting some soothing essential oils and pair the aroma with a gentle hand massage.
- Sight: This is a particularly good sense to engage if someone spends much of the day in bed. Did you know that the TV is NOT a mentally stimulating sight or sound? Instead, try using a nightlight that displays different moving shapes on the ceiling.
- Touch: Try a super-soft blanket, or make a book of different textures for the person to feel/enjoy with you turning the pages.
- Taste: Our taste of sweetness is the last taste bud to go – check with a physician before buying any special food items, but if a doctor says it is medically safe/appropriate, enjoy a favorite dessert together.