I came across a billboard this past week that offered a simple suggestion for those of us making lists for holiday giving. Keep the recipient at the center of your gift-giving. Before you brush that off and say, of course, I get them what I get them and in their size, think about that person on your list who may have special needs, not simply special sizes, color preferences and such. Think about your older loved one who may be manifesting the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of dementia.
The two underlying rules for gift-giving for a loved one with dementia are to keep it simple and to keep it relevant. Simple translates into working within their capabilities and relevance is still about working within their likes and preferences. Some examples can help explain.
- Music – If your loved one has always been a fan of music or if they have a favored category of music, chances are that they will still find pleasure in the tunes of their earlier years. The tunes of their past have the ability to take them back to pleasant times and experiences of their early years. Keep in mind, however, that the medium will be key – keep it easy to play. Optimally, make it a device that can just make music at the touch of a button. Nix the CDs, vinyl or memory devices that have to be installed.
- Pets – I’m not talking a puppy that will need house training or a cat that will need to be trained to use a scratch post. Depending on how advanced their dementia, those with Alzheimer’s find it very soothing to have a soft cuddly critter to stroke or just to hold in their lap.
- Smile – Photos that can take a person back to pleasant days and memories tap into a part of their past that can become real in their emotive content. Photos also can be shared with others, because dementia doesn’t block all those early experiences that the photos capture as much as block the new experiences which cannot be made into memories.
- Puzzles – Some people have positive memories of that jigsaw puzzle from the lakeshore vacation long ago. Your older loved one may not be able to sort out all those shades of green foliage of the 1,000 piece puzzle, but consider something a bit less challenging and it will be a great opportunity to share time with another person while bringing the puzzle into focus. Other artistic interests also can be tailored to your loved one’s capabilities as well.
- Other Cuddlies – The loved one who always delighted in their kids or grandkids may also find pleasure in holding a baby likeness. It’s important that the texture of these “babies” and the weight are provide the stimulus that can most soothe the patient with dementia. Consult with your loved one’s caregivers before choosing this so that you can be assured that this gift is appropriate to their condition.
And most of all the gifts of time and love will be great for your loved ones no matter their health conditions or diagnoses. It often is called the season of giving, and gifts from the heart area always the perfect size for every family member. Happy Holidays!
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.