The best gifts for your Alzheimer’s loved one

Instead of worrying about what to give a friend or loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia consider this. What that person really wants more than anything is to just be with you.

But this holiday season is going to be very different. If your loved one is in a memory care home, you probably won’t be able to visit them. If you can stand outside their window you could play their favorite music on your phone, or if you’re a musician you could sing or play an instrument. Or, eat a favorite dessert together, even if it’s through glass, and it’s not freezing cold.

Here’s a general list of gifts for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, no matter where they live. Of course, the stage of the disease will determine the gift that is most appropriate.

  • A soft bathrobe or blanket in a color they love
  • A CD with their favorite music
  • A digital photo frame.
  • Non-skid slipper socks.
  • Books in large print or audio books if the person is still able to follow and/or read.
  • Poker chips that can be sorted and counted.
  • Non-toxic modeling clay or PlayDoh
  • Water-based paints, brushes and paper
  • An aquarium, if someone else can take the responsibility to feed the fish
  • A terrarium or beautiful plant
  • Easy puzzles, word search books, etc.
  • Plastic nuts and bolts sets
  • Weighted blanket
  • Doll or stuffed animal

If your loved one lives with you and you are the primary caregiver, here are activities to do together.

  1. People with dementia love ice cream. Share a pint of his or her favorite. Bring the toppings and arrange them on a table in little bowls—sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped fruit, whipped cream, butterscotch or chocolate sauce, etc.
  2. Watch a comedy together. It doesn’t matter if your loved one can follow the plot or not. If you laugh, he or she will probably join in the merriment. Laughter triggers the production of endorphins; the brain chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain and make you feel good.
  3. Listen to music together. Put on a CD and sing together. Big Band Music is usually a hit with most 70, 80 and 90 year olds. If your loved one is younger, you can try classic rock.
  4. Get out the paint brush, paper and water colors. You don’t have to be an artist or art teacher to have fun with your loved one. Painting and drawing is a great way to share time together, and to even express feelings of frustration, irritation and fear—on paper.
  5. Dance to the music. If your loved one is still mobile help him or her get up and move. The exercise will enhance memories, even if temporarily. A short surge of condensed exercise boosts the compression of memories in both elders in good mental shape as well as those with slight cognitive impairment, according to new research by a team of scientists from UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory. If the person is in a wheel chair, move his or her arms to the rhythm.
  6. Go for a drive and get some fresh air. Just getting out of the house does a body good and uplifts the spirit.
  7. Hold hands, give a foot massage. Use aromatherapy oils (see chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia
  8. Create a book of photos that depict your loved one’s life and share memories without saying “remember when. . .”
  9. Share a special meal together and set the mood with candles and music.
  10. Just breathe together and be still in the silence. It’s the greatest gift of all.

Whatever you do, I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful holiday season. Be safe, wear a mask whenever you leave the house, and please be careful.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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