She loved Christmas and the tradition of Santa Claus, and I looked forward to exchanging gifts with her every year. Yet, the further she progressed into dementia, the more difficult it became to choose appropriate gifts, especially when my mother seemed to have no recognition of that special date on the calendar.
Over time, I learned that the best gift you can give someone with Alzheimer’s is to be fully present in their moment, always treating them with kindness, patience and respect. While their senses may be dulled, they are still very human, still capable of feeling emotions like sadness, anger, fear, or joy, still capable of giving and receiving love.
In honor of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, I’m linking up with my For the Love sisters today to share a list of gift ideas, perfect for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, that appeal to each of our five, very human senses.
Gift ideas for someone with Alzheimer’s
The gift of taste
What food makes you think of your birthday or another special time in your childhood? For me, it’s chocolate devil’s food cake. For my mom, it was Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.
While she could still eat solid foods, she really enjoyed favorite treats like cookies. Later, when my mom was losing weight and having trouble swallowing, she still enjoyed eating milkshakes and ice cream, the sweets of her childhood.
Obviously, choose your treats for someone with Alzheimer’s carefully, in case they have a medical condition like diabetes, but the point is to give them familiar, favorite tastes, connecting them to happy times in their past.
The gift of touch
Generally very deprived of physical touch and human interaction, many Alzheimer’s patients enjoy hand or foot massages. Silky smooth hand lotion with shea butter or soft, warm blankets and socks (with tread, if they’re still walking) make great, comforting gifts.
Cherished stuffed animals from their childhood or lifelike baby dolls can also be very therapeutic.
The gift of smell
I love how familiar baking scents like vanilla and cinnamon can instantly transport us to our childhood or a favorite holiday. Essential oils like lavender, lemon or orange in a lotion, diffuser or pillow spray can also be very soothing and uplifting for someone with dementia.
The gift of sound
The last December before my mom died, I put her favorite Christmas music on an inexpensive mp3 player and filled a labeled plastic baggie with extra earbuds and batteries.
I wish I had given her the gift of music earlier. Her nurse immediately reported my mom’s marked reaction to the music, and I ended up adding some of her favorite non-holiday music, as well.
Several studies have shown the positive effects of music therapy on the brains of people with dementia but the choice of music should really be tailored to each person. Favorite songs from our childhood or carefree teenage years are usually best for creating happy moments.
Reading a favorite book, maybe the Bible, to someone with Alzheimer’s or adding an audio version of that book to an mp3 player can also be a special gift.
The gift of sight
My mother spent hours staring contently at a poster filled with puppies at the end of her bed.
While magazines or photo books about favorite topics, like fishing or horses, or decorations for a favorite holiday can be therapeutic for someone with early to moderate stage Alzheimer’s, enlargements of old family photos or posters featuring favorite animals can help people with more advanced dementia connect with sweet moments in their past.
Do you have more gift ideas for someone with Alzheimer’s?
Please let me know in the comments.
Want more five senses? Check out our #FridayFive linkup here.