Holiday Gift Ideas for Individuals Coping with Dementia
The holidays are a time of family, friends, delicious food, and gift-giving. When you have a loved one who is coping with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, however, the holidays can be challenging to navigate. One of the questions we receive frequently at Iris Memory Care is “What should I get my loved one as a gift? Do you have any idea what they might enjoy?” To help families come up with ideas, we have put together the following list of suggestions based on our experience.
Gifts can fall into two different categories: gifts that help provide comfort and facilitate a sense of calm and gifts that provide stimulation and engagement.
Ideas for gifts that can provide comfort:
- No-sew fleece blanket – this is a simple and inexpensive gift that we find many with advanced dementia enjoy. As we age, it becomes more difficult for our bodies to regulate our temperature, so older adults often feel cold. What is particularly nice about these types of blankets is that the ties act as a fidget for the individual with dementia. Many of our residents run the ties over and over through their hands. The soft fabric and the interesting texture of the ties is a perfect way to keep hands busy, while also providing warmth and color. Here is a link to instructions on a DIY version: https://bit.ly/2E26Wbz
- Weighted blanket – weighted blankets are blankets that have different types and levels of fill that feel a bit heavy when placed on top of someone. These blankets can do two things: provide a little bit of extra warmth because of their structure, as well as provide gentle pressure that is soothing to individuals with sensory processing disorders. The gentle pressure can be calming for individuals who have a hard time sitting still. It is also helpful for the tremoring that is not an uncommon symptom for individuals with dementia, especially if they have Parkinson’s or Lewy Body dementia. Here is a link to an example of a weighted blanket: https://etsy.me/2BU0txU
- A stuffed animal or a baby doll – we have seen many residents become quite attached to a stuffed animal or baby doll. Not just women either! Many men enjoy the company of a stuffed friend or a doll. The key is to find something that would be of interest to your loved one. Did they love dogs? Try a stuffed dog. Were they an absolutely adoring grandfather who loved nothing more than spending time with their grandchildren? Try a baby doll. Did they raise horses? Try a stuffed horse. You can also never go wrong with a good ol’ fashioned teddy bear!
- Essential oils – while they do not always work for everyone, for many individuals coping with dementia, essential oils like lavender and relaxation blends can be very calming. A diffuser for their room, a blanket infused with essential oils, a rice bag that goes over the neck and shoulder infused with essential oils, or handkerchiefs with a few drops of oil that can tied around a wrist or tucked in a shirt pocket are all ways to administer essential oils. Here is a link that provides beginner information on different oils and their uses: https://www.alzheimers.net/10-10-14-essential-oils-dementia/
Ideas for gifts that provide stimulation and engagement:
- MP3/MP4 player loaded with playlists with their favorite music – music has been shown to have a HUGE impact on individuals with dementia, particularly if it is music they love. A huge library of music is not required. Shoot for 3 or 4 playlists that do not last longer than an hour. You can get a simple MP3/MP4 player like this for less than $50. We suggest getting several pairs of cheap over-the-ear headphones that are lightweight. Individuals with dementia often do not like the feeling of earbuds. They are also prone to losing or breaking headphones, so the cheap ones are a good idea.
- Coloring books and crayons/colored pencils – with the rise in popularity of adult coloring books, it seems that the cat is out of the bag. Kids aren’t the only ones who like to color! Coloring is particularly engaging and soothing for individuals with dementia. The key is to find the coloring book that is challenging enough to hold their interest but is not too challenging that they get frustrated and give up. You also want to find subjects that are of interest to them.
- Matching games – there are, of course, all kinds of table games your loved one might enjoy, but one that we have found is enjoyable for many with moderate to advanced dementia is a matching game like this one: https://www.alzstore.com/things-that-go-together-game-p/3502.htm Matching games are intellectually stimulating, but are not too challenging for a person with more advanced dementia.
- Coffee table books/photo books – National Geographic and DK are two publishers that make books like this: https://amzn.to/2E4UOqr. A book filled with stunning images that is enjoyable to simply flip through and look at is a perfect way to hold the attention of an individual with dementia. There are no words to try to decipher, but the pictures are breathtaking and can be great conversation starters.
These are just a few ideas to get you started! We hope these are helpful. You are always welcome to contact one of our experts at Iris Memory Care to brainstorm other ideas for your loved one. Happy Holidays!!