As the holiday season approaches, finding the right gifts for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease need not be difficult.
Look for gifts that relate to the types of activities your loved one enjoyed in the past, while taking into consideration any dementia limitations, says Michelle Brody, executive director of Arden Courts of Northbrook, a memory care community.
“If someone liked puzzles in the past, they might now enjoy a smaller puzzle with fewer pieces,” she says. “If the person was artistic, you have to realize that their abilities will not be what they were in the past. You want a gift to be user-friendly, so it doesn’t create frustration, anxiety, and stress. You want to give a gift that will make the person feel good about themselves.”
Here are some gift recommendations from professionals who work with individuals experiencing dementia:
Sound of music. Individuals with memory loss may enjoy a one-touch music player that resembles a vintage tabletop radio. It can be loaded with the loved one’s favorite music that will play by simply lifting a lid. “There are no CDs to go missing or get broken, and the music keeps them calm and comfortable while someone is helping them brush their teeth and getting them dressed,” Brody says. Research suggests that areas of the brain related to music are spared from Alzheimer’s. Playing well-loved tunes from the past may evoke pleasant memories.
Fidget fun. A fidget blanket is a good gift for people with dementia who are constantly moving their hands and fingers. “The fidget blanket has lots of stimulating activities such as ties, zippers, and crinkle paper that can keep restless hands busy, calm anxiety, keep individuals engaged, and make them feel like they are doing something productive,” Brody says. “A fidget blanket can be placed on the lap of someone who is sedentary, but we have a resident who walks around and carries a fidget pillow with her all day long.”
Picture this. Family members should consider giving their loved one a scrapbook, says Donna Germann, senior executive director at Artis Senior Living of Elmhurst, a memory care community. The book can include photos of memorable events with brief captions mentioning the date and place of the occasion and the names of the people in each photo. Create one yourself in a three-ring binder or turn to a professional photo company, such as Shutterfly. “People (with dementia) can look at the photos on their own, staff members can look at them with the individual to get to better know the resident, and visitors can look at the photos as a conversation-starter to evoke pleasant memories,” Germann says.
Realistic companions. Individuals with memory loss may like a lifelike toy, such as a soft stuffed dog to cuddle, an animatronic cat that purrs and vibrates when petted, or a realistic baby doll, Germann says. The soft animals can be comforting, and they may bring back memories of beloved pets from the past. Germann says that when her mother, who had seven children, was living with dementia, she enjoyed holding a doll. She suggests choosing a lifelike baby doll that is weighted to feel like a real infant and has soft skin.
Smart devices. Megan Evans, a social worker at the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommends a smart home device such as the Amazon Echo Show 10 or the Google Nest Hub Max, which have video screens and can make video calls. This gift can help people whose dementia limits their verbal communication. “Smart home devices allow tasks to be simplified to short voice commands of ‘Call Mary’ or ‘News,’ cutting down on multistep tasks,” says Evans, whose work focuses, in part, on life enrichment for individuals living with dementia. The devices can be set up to play the news or music at specific times or to issue task reminders. And they can be activated using voice cues or quick hand gestures.
Artistic expression. Art-related products make good gifts for people with dementia, Evans says, especially for those who have lost the ability to communicate verbally. “This focus allows the person to connect to their senses and rely more on their own self-expression through art,” she says. She suggests art supplies or kits that allow people to express themselves, such as a sketch pad and fine-tip markers, Akola’s build your own bracelet set, the Build A Bird Bungalow kit to create and paint a bird house, or a mosaic kit from MyriJoy.