Gifts for Seniors with Alzheimer's or Dementia
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Do you have that “hard to shop for” person in your family? Choosing the perfect gift can be difficult or impossible. What would you do if that person had Alzheimer’s or another dementia?

The following are gift ideas for someone who has Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Where appropriate, please also note accompanying hyperlinks where you can learn more about these products or purchase them.

15 Great Gifts for Seniors with Alzheimer’s: Early Stage (Mild)

Here are 15 gift ideas for seniors with early stage Alzheimer’s:

  1. Family photo albums. Sit with your loved one and share each photo. This helps to save memories and can lead to some interesting conversations! If mom or dad remembers a family vacation in Seattle instead of Miami, don’t get too concerned or offer a correction. Simply enjoy the time spent together. You could also create albums of old family letters or recipes.
  2. Day clock. Day clocks will, ideally, have a large LED display. This shows the current time, day of the week, date, and AM/PM.
  3. Simple board game. Complex games may confuse a senior with Alzheimer’s or dementia. They can also be frustrating for you to explain. Keep your choice of board games easier and familiar – think of Snakes and Ladders, Checkers, or Dominoes.
  4. Shoes with velcro straps. Tying your shoes may seem easy, but seniors with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can forget the steps involved and lack the finger dexterity required. Velcro straps on shoes can be easily tightened or loosened by caregivers and seniors.
  5. Bouquet of flowers. Fresh flowers can brighten up a senior’s room and smell nice. It is a simple and visual way to show them that they are loved.
  6. Back-scrubbing brush. This brush makes bathing or showering easier.
  7. Wide-brimmed sun hat or warm mittens. Depending on where you live, a weather appropriate gift could be something the senior would use every day.
  8. Key bracelet. This gift can ensure that your loved one won’t lose or misplace their keys. Tuck a set of keys inside the bracelet for safekeeping. Engrave the outside with your loved one’s name and your contact phone number.
  9. Picture dial phone. This clever device makes phone calls easy! Photos of family, friends, and emergency contacts are displayed on the phone. When a picture is pressed, the speed dial mechanism calls the person! No need to remember a list of important phone numbers or fumble with the phone’s numbered touchpad!
  10. E-Z Out door handle. Seniors with early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia begin to lose their memories as well as physical strength and balance. Attach this door handle in your car to help mom or dad get in or out.
  11. Wine of the month. If your parents have a passion for wine, register mom/dad for this club to receive a bottle of quality wine each month. Red, white, rose, and dessert wines are all offered – something to please every palate. Excessive alcohol consumption can have negative effects on a person. Therefore, please limit wine drinking to one glass (175 ml) per day.
  12. A memory box. Pack a memory box with small, special mementos, and add or replace items as the dementia progresses. Memory boxes shouldn’t be overly large. An empty shoebox would work well.
  13. Ice cream. Treat mom or dad to tasty ice cream. Whether served in a cone or a bowl, ice cream is delicious and can be easily swallowed.
  14. Drawings from grandchildren. Encourage youngsters to draw, color, or paint a picture. Display the pictures on a wall of your parent’s room. When I visited Dad in long-term care, I saw his neighbor’s wall was almost completely covered!
  15. Your company. If you can’t think of anything to give, give your parents the gift of a personal visit. There are plenty of activities to do with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. A great idea for visiting grandchildren is to ask grandparents these questions to learn more about them.

15 Great Gifts for Seniors with Alzheimer’s: Mid Stage (Moderate)

These gifts are good options for seniors with slightly more advanced Alzheimer’s than the mild stage:

  1. Coloring books. Unleash your parent’s creative juices with a coloring book! Holding crayons will also help a senior maintain fine motor skills.
  2. Puzzles. Choose any design or picture you like! Bigger puzzle pieces will be better for older hands to handle and manipulate. Fewer puzzle pieces will result in easier solving.
  3. Automatic pill dispenser. Taking medications can become routine for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Prescribed pills can, however, be easily forgotten. A pill dispenser can help with medication management. Caregivers can fill a pill dispenser and set the alarm. When the alarm sounds, the senior will be reminded to take the pills.
  4. Medic alert bracelet (or necklace). Engrave the bracelet with a senior’s medical condition. In the case of an emergency, medical responders will know what to do.
  5. Bath soaps, lotions, and fragrances. Seniors living with dry skin may be in need of some extra hydration. Pick out a bath soap or lotion in their favorite scent!
  6. Sports memorabilia. Did mom or dad cheer on the Green Bay Packers or the Boston Bruins? A team jersey or baseball cap can be displayed or worn and can help promote long-term memory retention.
  7. Larger print books. Larger print in books can be much easier for older eyes to read. You can read and enjoy the stories together.
  8. Something handmade. You don’t have to necessarily buy an item if you think of something that you can make by hand! Perhaps a knitted scarf or a custom-built bookcase?
  9. Concert tickets. Music is an important part of dementia care and can help you connect with your loved one. One year, I was struggling to find a Christmas present for my father. Dad’s Alzheimer’s was advancing and I couldn’t think of any appropriate gift. I treated Dad to a Christmas concert but had no idea of how he would respond. Judging by his broad smile while the music played, I had found a perfect gift for him!
  10. Gift card for meals out. What is your loved one’s favorite restaurant? Purchase a gift card to both save your loved one some money and to recommend a joint activity where the whole family can dine out.
  11. Home cooking or baking. Something inexpensive yet appreciated is making your mom or dad’s favorite dish for them! Make sure to put the leftovers in the fridge to avoid attracting any critters.
  12. A visitor’s journal. Leave this in your loved one’s room at long-term care centers. Visitors can sign in and leave a comment or two about their visit.
  13. Familiar books. If your loved one was an avid childhood reader, shop for book titles which he/she will have read as a youngster.
  14. Costume jewelry. Perfect for the senior who still likes to dress up! The different colors, shapes, and sizes of the attached beads can all be interesting for someone with dementia.
  15. Your company. I’ve recommended this before, but it bears repeating. Providing your company is a simple thing to do, and can be very appreciated.

15 Great Gifts for Seniors with Alzheimer’s: Late Stage (Severe)

If your loved one has more advanced, or late stage Alzheimer’s, here are some gifts to consider getting them:

  1. Stuffed animal. Gifting a real animal will be inappropriate, but there are alternatives. A robotic cat will cuddle, purr, and meow but is expensive. A stuffed animal is an excellent – and cheaper – substitute. As with board games, choose a familiar “pet” like a kitten or puppy.
  2. Weighted laptop pad. Place this pad on a senior’s lap to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. The portable pad can be brought along to use in the car or while waiting in a doctor’s office.
  3. Watercolor kit. Communicating during late-stage dementia can be difficult. Your loved one may not be able to express themselves with words, but they can often communicate through art.
  4. Terry cloth bathrobe. Warm, fuzzy, and the perfect thing to slip into after bathing!
  5. Lap robe. If your senior remains confined to a wheelchair, this is a good option to a standard bathrobe. Lap robes, typically, are fitted to the specific wheelchair size and model.
  6. Slippers. Look for a pair of slippers with non-slip soles.
  7. Blanket or duvet. A heavier, and more substantial, blanket covering the senior can be more calming.
  8. Portable stereo. Insert a compact disc of nostalgic songs and watch the reaction! Music is a powerful and fun stimulant for seniors with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Include headphones so as not to disturb other residents or care home staff.
  9. Manicure or pedicure. Properly-cared for nails look better and feel better! Treat your loved one to a professional mani/pedi. Often, these are accompanied by a gentle massage of hands or feet which can feel superb! Your loved one may feel uncomfortable going out. In this case, a home-use kit is perfect.
  10. Adaptive clothing. Open-back shirts are struggle-free. Sweatsuits are loose-fitting and comfortable to wear.
  11. Twiddle muff. Twiddle muffs are knitted tubes with items attached to the outside. Items can be buttons, small bells, keys, or anything with a distinct feeling. Twiddle muffs keep fidgeting hands busy.
  12. Lockbox. Unfortunately, residents’ possessions in a dementia care home can go missing. Other residents may be attracted to displayed items and wander off with them. With a lockbox, you can secure your loved one’s valuables and pull these out for sharing each time you visit.
  13. A location device. Seniors with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease are prone to wandering. To prevent wandering risks, provide mom or dad with a tracking device to wear and provide you considerable peace-of-mind.
  14. A handheld massager. Help your loved one reduce any pain or soothe away stress with a handheld massager. These devices come with a variety of accessories that easily pop on and off the rotating head.
  15. Your company. Once again, simply being with your loved one can be the best present. Remember though the senior’s physical and mental abilities will be greatly reduced. Try sitting together and watching a travel video.

7 Tips for Successful Holiday Gatherings

Families often gather together for holidays. However, these gatherings will likely require adaptation when seniors are involved. For everybody’s increased enjoyment, please consider the following recommendations:

  1. Access to the home. Are there stairs to enter or exit the home? I once lived in a third-story walk-up apartment (with no elevator). While Dad came over occasionally for family dinners, our visits proved to be far easier at my sister’s home which had a ground-level entry. Consider tight corners. These may be difficult for a senior with a walker to navigate through. Prevent falls with good lighting by replacing dim lighting or adding brighter lighting to help show the way to a senior with reduced vision. Declutter inside the home to reduce tripping hazards. Clear the sidewalks of any ice and snow for a safer entry and exit.
  2. Self-care. Caregivers for seniors with Alzheimer’s or another dementia need to manage their own health year-round. Caregiver self-care needs to be a priority during the holidays. No matter what the celebration, holidays can prove to be very busy times and perhaps even including some emotional “hot buttons.” Caregivers need to regularly step back and focus on themselves as they run the risk of becoming overly stressed and burnt out.
  3. Changing customs. Annual holidays fall on the same dates each year, but family celebrations may change. Depending on the circumstances, mom or dad may not be able to participate at the same level as before. In this case, assign the job to someone else in the family, modify the custom, or drop the custom entirely.
  4. Keep gatherings small. Limit guests or stagger visits from others to avoid a full house. Have some quiet time for the senior. Even if they may not understand the meaning of Christmas anymore, they can still become excessively agitated or tired with all the extra activity. Sudden shrieks of enjoyment from children can be very startling. Provide a quiet spot for the senior to rest or nap. Reduce the length of a visit. Schedule activities appropriately. For example, if there is something more important to the family, do this earlier in the day when Mom/Day may be more alert.
  5. Choose your venue. Seniors living in long-term care homes will be more familiar with this environment. Instead of disrupting the senior’s routine, consider bringing Christmas to him/her. Hang a wreath on the senior’s room door, or place a poinsettia on a shelf. Bring a portable DVD player and a Christmas movie to watch together. Participate in holiday activities with other residents.
  6. Prepare other visitors. When you have company stopping in to see you over the holidays, they may not have seen your loved one in some time and may or may not know of his/her condition, what to expect, nor how things may have changed since their last visit. Update your guests about what is different with regards to behavior, communication, and/or physical appearance.
  7. Slow down. Family caregivers, and others, can be guilty of trying to do too much. Santa Claus travels around the globe to deliver presents on Christmas Eve, but family caregivers can create a shorter list of things to do. They and their loved ones may find this approach more to their liking.

Five Great Gifts for Any Stage of Alzheimer’s

Along with the many excellent gift ideas for specific stages of Alzheimer’s, there are appropriate presents for affected seniors at any point:

  1. Chocolate. Satisfy your senior’s sweet tooth. The taste of chocolate may be quickly forgotten, but there can be a wonderful “in-the-moment” opportunity for family caregivers witnessing a senior’s broad smile.
  2. Arthur Bear. Made from soft terry cloth, this stuffed bear is great to hold and cuddle. But there’s more! The hidden surprise is a playlist of pre-recorded music which can be accessed by a gentle squeeze of the bear’s paw. Significant songs can be chosen and downloaded into Arthur Bear. Caregivers don’t have to stick with listening to the same songs all the time. 1,500 – 2,000 songs can be stored in the bear’s ample 4GB memory – giving plenty of choices!
  3. Clothes. During these colder months, give a sweater (the button or zip-up style will be far simpler for care home staff dressing/undressing a senior). Wool socks and/or long underwear can also keep a senior warm. Choose clothes that will stand up to frequent laundering. Sort through the senior’s closet to replace any worn clothes with new ones.
  4. Throw & Tell activity ball. Tossing and catching this ball can improve a senior’s eye-hand coordination, but this ball has another feature. Questions or memory prompts are listed on each of the ball’s outside panels for the senior with Alzheimer’s disease to answer. Keep the ball at the care home – care staff could start a game of “catch” with either one senior or many!
  5. Additional professional help. A professional caregiving company can provide staff to visit a senior in a long-term care home to supplement the care already provided. In order to keep seniors safe during COVID-19, an extra care worker must abide by the safety protocol of the company, so be sure to ask what it is.

Ways to Make the Holidays Special for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Remember that material gifts aren’t the only way to make the holidays special. Here are some meaningful recommendations that family caregivers and seniors can do together:

  1. Listen to Christmas carols. Music has been proven to be a powerful tool for those with Alzheimer’s. Seniors affected respond to music in many positive ways. Mom or dad may not be able to carry a tune anymore but may sing, hum, sway back and forth rhythmically, and/or tap their feet. Encourage long-term care management to bring in musicians to lead a group singalong.
  2. View Christmas lights. Where I live, our city’s local transit company offers holiday bus tours. Passengers can sit back and be taken through several neighborhoods of brightly-decorated homes. The chauffeured trip allows for bus passengers to relax and appreciate the festive lights together. Caregivers preferring to drive seniors around themselves may find a shorter tour will be better. Aim for an early evening tour before seniors become more tired.
  3. Plan an outing. Family caregivers need to consider the capabilities of their loved one but may be pleasantly surprised at what a senior with Alzheimer’s can do. I recall joining my sister, her two young children, and Dad at a local ski hill. Bringing Dad along was a complete experiment as we had no idea of how he would respond but we well-remembered how he had always loved skiing and led many family ski trips. After getting outfitted with rented equipment, Dad gleefully swooped down the hill (I could barely keep up with him!) – despite his dementia!

Gift-buying for aging parents shouldn’t be a hard thing to do. With thought and creativity, family caregivers can often find the process fun. Whether for Christmas, a birthday, or “just because,” it’s not that difficult to find a perfect gift for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.

About the Author(s)

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents. His mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's. Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to personally cope.

His stories became two books, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide.

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