Friday Five: Gift Ideas for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Friday Five: Gift Ideas for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Christmas shopping was always bittersweet while my mother was living with Alzheimer’s disease.

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.

gift ideas for someone with alzheimer's
August 2011

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.

snowflake cookies

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.

gift ideas for someone with alzheimer's

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.

#FridayFive

Love,

Lauren

10 comments

  1. Connie Yargo says:

    One of my friends gave her mother a baby doll, which she loved and carried around
    with her and talked to everyone about. It gave her something sweet to focus on.

    • Lauren Flake says:

      Yes, a baby doll brings out that nurturing instinct!

      I’ve even seen memory care units with a baby nursery set up to help give residents a sense of purpose and connect them to their mothering days.

  2. A.T. says:

    Thanks for sharing these ideas, which are very thoughtful. I gave my FTD Mom an extremely soft stuffed puppy for Valentine’s Day, whom she named Murphy. She already had quite a collection, but Murphy is larger and a lot more pliable, so she can hug and position him like he’s hugging her back. She tells him her woes and her joys. It is so sweet to see her with him. He is great during her anxiety attacks too. I would highly recommend a furbaby like Murphy.

  3. Kelly S says:

    Be still my heart! This reminds me of one of my favorite books of all time, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. It is about a little boy’s attempt to help his elderly friend remember. Please tell me you have read it!

    The music—I attended a continuing ed featuring the power of music for patients with dementia. I cried through it. The documentary is Alive Inside. You would need a box of tissues to get through it. Try this little clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyZQf0p73QM

    You are an incredible resource for folks who love someone with Alzheimer’s . I am one of your biggest fans!

    • Lauren Flake says:

      I have never even heard of that book! Will check Amazon or the library ASAP.

      I have seen part of Alive Inside before but forgot to mention it! Thank you so much for encouraging so many of us through #FridayFive each week.

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