We are all knee deep in the holiday season, which for many of us, means shopping for those perfect gifts. Shopping for older adults is daunting in itself. As adults, we tend to take care of ourselves and our needs. If we want something, we get it. By the time we get older, we usually have everything we need and “wants” have diminished. Let’s face it, grandma and grandpa most likely aren’t interested in the latest fads or high-tech gadgets. If they have Alzheimer’s or dementia, then it can be even more difficult. There are many things to consider when choosing a gift for someone with Alzheimer’s, such as what stage of the disease are they presently in…beginning? moderate? advanced? What are some excellent Alzheimer’s gift ideas to get for a loved one?
If you are getting an Alzheimer’s gift for someone in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, chances are they are just experiencing some short term memory loss. Choosing older movies and music is a good way to help them reminisce. Long term memory usually lasts, in varying degrees, throughout the multiple stages of Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind what your loved one knows and is comfortable with. If they are used to using DVDs or even VCRs, then get the movie in the format that they already know. Do not try and force something new on them even if you think your way is easier.
Granted it is important to stimulate cognitive thinking, but the stress and anxiety of trying to learn something new or understanding a new process may backfire, causing the loved one to feel inferior and perhaps even retreating. I used this example from experience with my father. He was comfortable using VCRs. He had collected over 1,000 old movies and TV shows that he purchased or recorded himself. I wanted to get him a DVR, but he refused. He didn’t want to just “save” shows, he wanted to have them. He did expand to watching DVDs, only because VHS tapes were getting harder to find. Regardless, the point is that I didn’t see the benefit in pushing something on him that he wasn’t ready for or interested in.
Besides reminiscing, Alzheimer’s gifts that stimulate cognitive thinking are wonderful choices for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Puzzle books, word/math games, crosswords and are great for keeping the mind active. Selecting games or books that have different levels of difficulty will work out best. This gives them the opportunity to work at the level they currently are, not where they were. If they are physically able, puzzle games that require your hands are great Alzehimer’s gifts that have multiple benefits. In addition to stimulate thinking, they also help with eye hand coordination, dexterity and simple exercise. Manipulating puzzle pieces will help blood flow, which can alleviate symptoms of arthritis or stiff muscles. Increased blood flow also helps “feed” the brain, keeping it healthier longer.
If you find that your loved one is beyond the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and is suffering from noticeable memory loss/issues, then other gifts might be more appropriate and meaningful. This is where technology can be helpful. As Alzheimer’s cases have been increasing, so has the demand for related products. The Alzheimer’s Store and Best Alzheimer’s Products offers some great, techy gifts that can make life easier for those living with the disease. One option is the picture phone. Though it looks and works like an older, standard desk phone with push buttons, there is a touch screen that shows 9 pictures in a grid. Each picture has a phone number assigned to it. This is great for someone who still recognizes faces, but forgets names and numbers. The person with Alzheimer’s can simply look down and see who they want to talk to and touch that photo. Of course, 911, their doctor, ambulance, etc,,,, can all be added using general photos or icons. Another product they offer is a super simplified TV remote control. It has the basic features, such as volume control, up/down channel buttons, power switch and 5 differently shaped and colored buttons that you can program to their 5 favorite channels. For anyone who has worked with older adults in a long term environment, they can tell you that TV remote issues are one of the most common and frustrating for the residents and that includes those who do not have dementia.
Puzzles and games are still good options at this point, but may need to be simplified. Items that stimulate the 5 senses can be very helpful as they not only promote reminiscing but can help alleviate stress, anxiety and to some degree, physical discomfort. Scented soaps and oils can help relax while bringing back some old ,memories, while special “happy lights” can diminish the feelings of depression.
For most people in this situation, choosing a gift for someone in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming. Perhaps things they had all enjoyed no longer interest them or bring them pleasure. Choosing a gift that has some meaning and usefulness becomes a challenge. Some of you might have noticed that I have not mentioned clothing or personal items that would make perfectly good gifts. Obviously, that is true. Everyone can use clothes, especially older adults who may be on fixed incomes or who have incontinence issues and may need to change cloths several times throughout the day. I will say, when choosing clothing for someone with Alzheimer’s keep in mind their current situation and stage of development. Many people with Alzheimer’s have problems detecting temperature changes and may not dress themselves appropriately, such as layering on sweaters and coats when it is 90 degrees outside or wearing next to nothing when it freezing outside. Keeping clothes simple and easy to wear will become your guidelines and then using your knowledge of your loved one’s tastes to find something that they will enjoy wearing.
Some may feel that in these advanced stages there isn’t really anything of interest that could or would benefit their loved one. That is not true. There are many hands on items that serve a purpose beyond that of a game or puzzle. Probably the most well known Alzheimer’s specific item is the Twiddle muff. Invented by Margaret Light for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease. Her grandmother had been very creative and used her hands a lot for crafting. Margaret wanted to give her grandmother something would help to keep her hands busy, as they were used to, without causing confusion or frustration. The general shape is a classic muff where the hands can be placed. Also like a muff, it keeps the hands warm but has a squeezable ball inside. This keeps fingers limber and joints loose. It also releases built up energy. On the outside there is a pocket, textured ribbons,a string of beads,,,all to keep hands moving and stimulated, thus stimulating the mind. Twiddle muffs became extremely popular. Newer designs look like stuffed cats or dogs, adding the motion of petting to the list of possibilities. The use of care baby dolls has been a staple in advanced Alzheimer’s treatment and programming. Predominantly for women, the “babies’ provide a level of comfort and purpose for those whose memories of taking care of a baby or child are their current reality. Many Alzheimer’s care communities not only provide dolls, but actual supplies for changing diapers, folding laundry, etc….all activities that the resident can relate to. For men, I have seen a Handyman Box that is made up of raw lumber and a variety of different hardware, mostly latches and hinges that lead to hidden compartments. Operating under the same principles, the box provides man who used to work with hands, familiar visuals and textures. Trying to open the various latches stimulates cognitive thinking, releases built up energy and perhaps memories of jobs or hobbies they once had.
As you can see, there are plenty of options out there for meaningful gifts for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia/memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Association and countless other groups offered suggestions as well as family members and friends who have created their own, such as Margaret Light. If you come across something that you think others would find interesting or have a creative idea of your own for a gift, please share it here. Your finds and ideas can help someone struggling to find something for a loved one. Are you struggling to care for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease? We are a dementia nursing home in Oakbrook Terrace that features a dementia capable design and specialized Alzheimer’s programs.