* This article was originally published in my column Ask Peter, in the Enfield Press and Longmeadow News.
When presenting a relative who is going through Alzheimer's Care or Dementia Care, you can give them a good warm jacket, to help them face the wintertime in New England. Or you can go beyond and give them a gift that will help to keep them physically and mentally active.
To begin with, you must have some information about the condition of the patient you would like to give a gift. Then, there are some decisions to make. Finally, there are gifts that help dementia or Alzheimer’s patient and there are gifts that help the caregiver. And there are gifts that help both in a Home Care situation, with Alzheimer's care or dementia care.
What are their interests?
The first tip to help you is to think about what did they enjoyed doing before they developed dementia. Many previous interests could lead to resourceful gifts for the home care of a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient. They will also help the caregiver to engage with his /her loved one while practicing these activities in their home care environment. For example, here are common interests that could render good gifts:
- Gardening: they may not be able to dig holes or mix compost, but they could plant annuals and home plants in pots
- Playing music: it is proven by science that musicians who have Alzheimer’s achieve exceptional results when playing music;
- Arts: coloring books, drawing material, confection of picture books all can be very helpful in reminiscing
- Movies and songs: classic movies and hit songs from the time when the patient was young can sometimes open a shed of memory through the walls of the disease
- Travel: nature books, travel books with large pictures of different places; puzzles with city and nature landscapes, commensurate with their current capacity
- Cooking: Books with simple, illustrated recipes, that the patient can help the caregiver to prepare, if they are in the early stages.
- Engineering: building blocks and plastic model kits. Mathematical puzzles. Tools and toolboxes: organizing the toolbox is a great exercise for some patients.
Pleasure or Practice?
You should ask yourself: what do you want to achieve with this Christmas gift? You’ll discover that there are gifts that can be lots of fun and others that are more practical, but may be well received as a gift. There are also things you can give to the caregiver, like Gift Cards for some “me” time, to give them some respite and time for their private life.
A Caregiving Gift Card coupled with a spa, massage or hairdresser gift card will go a long way with a family member who has the main duty of caring for your loved ones. Ultimately, these gift cards will help both, the patient and the caregiver. They help the caregiver to recharge his/her energy, before resuming their duty, thus contributing to the quality of care they provide. Additionally, it shows them that it is possible to be relieved from the caregiving duties, sometimes.
What stage are they at?
This is a crucial question. The dementia processes are usually described as a series of three stages – early, mid and late. It’s important to understand the limitations posed by the stage the person you’re buying for might be at. How that could impact their ability to use or appreciate the gift you are thinking of giving them? For example, someone in the early stages may enjoy games or puzzle books as they’re still able to complete them, but someone in the mid or later stages could struggle with the same gift. Instead, they may respond better to dementia-friendly jigsaws.
Here are some suggestions according to the stage of Alzheimer’s:
First stage Alzheimer’s
- Classic movies and TV shows
- Activity books: math games, crossword puzzle, strategy games
- Coloring book
- Health club membership with pre-paid Personal Trainer
- Books and videos that teach about the disease
- Music CD’s – especially music the person used to enjoy, when younger, to stimulate reminiscing
- Calendar: With large numbers and cheerful pictures, marked with special anniversaries.
- Reading material that reflects the interests of the patient
- Exercise material: It could be simple as a “Nerf” ball (soft sponge ball that can be tossed around inside) or as complex as an exercise bicycle.
In this stage, you can make yourself a gift that will inspire reminiscing:
- A homemade scrapbook or photo album filled with bright, cheerful pictures with family members and close friends, with their names written
- Picture book with outdoor scenes, sports photos, etc.
- Memory box: Filled with objects that have special meaning to the patient or will trigger memories, or with yarn for winding or fabric samples of different textures to feel, fold and arrange.Senior Activity Books
- Objects and activities to promote the movement of the hands, arms, feet, etc.
- Simple games and puzzles
- Stage-appropriate movies. What about a smart TV with a subscription to online channels with a large classics catalog
- Anything that stimulates any of the senses
- Large clocks
- Toiletries and other products that will make her or him feel better
- Signs to help them find things and places in the house, like the bathroom, the cups, the glasses, the exit doors, the kitchen, etc.
Late Stage Alzheimer’s
- Nature videos/Other videos that feature visual and auditory stimulation
- Music is a great gift for everyone and for all stages. People in the later stages may benefit more; time and time again we have witnessed music “waking up” people who are otherwise despondent and non-communicative
- Doll or stuffed animal: in this stage, Alzheimer’s patients enjoy cuddly things
- Weighted lap pad or weighted blanket: they provide pressure and sensory input for individuals with Alzheimer’s and can be used as a calming tool or for sleep. The pressure of the blanket provides proprioceptive input to the brain
- Special clothing that makes dressing and undressing easier
Tablet with Alzheimer’s/dementia specific APPs
Tech “toys”, like a flashy phone or TV, should be considered case by case. They could be too complicated for them to operate and cause confusion and stress. However, a tablet to be used together with or under the supervision of a caregiver could go a long way in offering mind games and useful tools.
Mindmate, Alzheimer’s Disease Pocketcard, Peak - Brain Training, and Precision Medicine Alzheimer’s are some examples of free apps designed specifically for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Some bring brain exercises, some bring useful tools, like reminders, and some help to contribute in Alzheimer’s research.
What NOT to buy
Some toys, like Jenga, may be a good idea for a gift, but take care before buying children’s toys only because they’re simpler and easier for someone with dementia to complete – it can be very demeaning.
Sweets and chocolates can sometimes cause chewing and swallowing issues, making it hard and even dangerous. Think twice before giving them a big box of chewy sweets or chocolates.
Medical Alert Systems
Or what we usually call “peace of mind at the touch of a button”. There are several devices to help your loved ones to live independently, at their homes, for a longer period of time. Home Helpers offers these devices in our Direct Link line of products. Here’s some:
- Fall sensors: they will trigger an alarm in a monitoring station. The monitors will then call the patients home, a family member, a neighbor or 911, depending on the response they get;
- Emergency buttons: these allow the person to speak directly with the monitoring personnel. Once they activate the button, they will receive a call through the equipment. The monitor will ask them what help they need, if any;
- Medicine dispensers and reminders: these devices release medicine according to a schedule. An alarm alerts the patient, who then has to pick up the pill and take it. IF he fails to do so, a member of the family is immediately informed.
- Smoke detectors: very useful for people with mobility limitations or hearing impairment. They will sound an alarm in the home, but also in the monitoring station, which will follow the protocol until it is clear that the client is safe.
Click here to learn more about Home Helpers Alzheimer's Care and Dementia Care services.