Those of us with relatives or friends with Alzheimer’s disease know how difficult it is to find appropriate and useful gifts for birthdays or the holidays. Yet there are a number of excellent gift items available for this special population if we use our knowledge of the disease to identify the needs of each individual.
For example, most people with early dementia are usually aware that they either have AD or have some memory problems. At this point in the disease, most will still have good communication skills, will be quite active, and will also be struggling to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Gifts that help them achieve this goal are always welcome. Try looking for items to reduce the problems caused by short term memory loss. For instance: Electric coffee and tea pots which turn off after a short period of time; day planners to keep track of appointments and special occasions; medication holders with timers which can be set to signal when doses are due; photo albums with names and dates next to each picture; and ID bracelets.
To encourage continued socialization and activity try the following: Tickets to a concert or musical, sports event or the circus; a taxi charge account for transportation to visit friends; a trip to the shopping mall topped off with lunch; or a visit to the local senior center to participate in activities.
The moderately impaired individual usually has some difficulty communicating and needs help with daily activities. The attention span for these individuals may also be shortened somewhat. Activities are important and wandering is frequently seen in this group. Your gifts should still encourage independence and socialization as well as foster preservation of skills whenever possible. Appropriate gifts for this group include: Simple to manage clothing (tube socks which can’t be put on the wrong way or slippers with Velcro closings are good examples); gift certificates for a hair salon or manicure; a variety of materials to sort through (vary sizes, textures and colors for sensory stimulation); a punch balloon for chair volleyball; a “chair exercise” video; music cassettes, records or videos (golden oldies, gospel, barber shop, country, nature sounds, classical, “new age” relaxation). Other gift ideas include tapes of sermons and other services from their church, family photo albums and short trips in the car to familiar places.
One of my favorite gifts for impaired elderly is a bird feeder and a tape of bird songs. Feeders come in a variety of styles from small ones which can stick on windows, to large freestanding feeders for the yard or garden. The nice part about feeders as gifts, is that the person with Alzheimer’s disease will enjoy watching the feeder and can often be prompted to fill it with seeds when needed, an activity both the individual and the caregiver can enjoy together.
The severely impaired individual usually has poor communication skills, very short attention span and mobility problems. Gifts given to people with late stage Alzheimer’s disease should stimulate the senses, require little attention span and make the individual “feel good”. Arrange for a visit with a well-trained dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig. Animals can be a source of enjoyment even for the most impaired individuals.
Although we need to remember that the individual with Alzheimer’s disease is not a child and should not be treated as such, the fact that the person has regressed to some extent should be considered. Stuffed animals, soft pillows and afghans are often a comfort to the individual with late stage dementia and many women seem to enjoy having a baby doll to hold.
Colorful mobiles and crystal prisms to hang in the window, blooming plants (check for allergies) and soft soothing music also bring pleasure in taller stages. Comfort can also be enhanced by hand or body lotions used to give back or hand massage.
These are just a few of many appropriate gifts which the impaired adult would enjoy. People with Alzheimer’s disease may not recognize the event or holiday as it passes by, however, even the most impaired person will feel the love included in the gift you give.
by Stephanie Zeman, RN, MSN, author of “The Giftgiver’s Guide to Shopping for the Older Adult”
Alzheimer’s Arkansas Programs and Services
201 Markham Center Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205-1409
Phone: 501-224-0021 or 800-689-6090