Thoughtful Gifts for People with Dementia: 5 Creative Ideas Beyond the Usual

Yes, these lists abound on the internet, but that’s why I had to make my own and go beyond the (stereo)typical suggestions! 

After observing my mother and her housemates for a year and noticing what ends up in the trash and what gets coveted (and sometimes “borrowed”) by fellow residents, this is what I’ve come up with:

1) A Windowsill Mini-Garden 

Use Scented Herbs, Flowers, and plants with interesting colors/textures.  If the person cannot get help with watering and will probably not remember, use cacti or more forgiving plants that enjoy a bit of dryness or neglect, like rosemary, aloe, hoya, etc.  Studies abound on the power of plants to affect environment, both in air quality and the psychological state of the observer.  Commercial self-sustaining gardens exist, like Aerogarden, but they’re pricey.  You’d be surprised what you can do with a small rectangular inexpensive pot and some good potting soil.  Remember to use succulent/sandy soil for desert-loving plants.

2) Two Button CD player

This has been my fantasy for Mom for a few years.  As far as I can see, it doesn’t exist yet. (surprising, with so much dementia around!)  But the good news is that you can make your own.  I bought the simplest CD player I could find, and then used duct tape to cover up all the buttons that were dispensable.  Then I used a Sharpie and colorful electrical tape to highlight the POWER, PLAY CD, and RADIO buttons.  Still not completely dementia-proof, but more than not, Mom can figure it out.   Would love to hear if any of you have found an easier solution than this.  If you don’t mind keeping the power on standby, you can simplify it even further to just 2 buttons.  Remember to set the volume where it will be appreciated, and you may need to then tape that in place too, to avoid it getting muted or blasted unintentionally. 

For the best options in CD players, check websites with reviews like Amazon, and put in the phrase “CD player for Kids”.  Fortunately, not all of them that come up will look demeaning, like they’re for young children.  I surprisingly didn’t have so much luck with the terms “easy CD Player” or “simple CD player”.

3) A Windowside Bird Feeder and/or Bird Bath, and a Designated Helper to Care for it Once per Week

I find it’s really nice to have some grounding devices for my visits that serve as rituals, and help both Mom and I feel more relaxed, and take away some of the tension from the usual, “when are you moving me out of here?” 

Caring for her plants and the birds is one way we do this.  If your gift recipient can help with the chores, that’s even better!  You may want to throw in a simple pair of binoculars if you don’t think they’ll get lost or stolen, but in any case, label them clearly for prevention.

photo credit: TinyTall@Flickr

4) A Scented, Soothing “Dream Pillow”

Medications for the elderly, and especially those with dementia, are notorious for causing insomnia, sleep disruptions, and nightmeres.  My mother has been very comforted by a little “sleep pillow” I made in an herb class, that took about 15 minutes to make, even with no sewing skills.  I had an experienced sewer guide me and hold my hand, but you can use a firmly tied up drawstring bag or nontoxic glue, if you’re the no-sew type.  

soothing lavender

The little pillow goes right under the normal pillowcase, or on top, as preferred, to provide scented, soporific comfort at bedtime.  Mom especially likes the lavender that comes right from my garden.  Different people will react to different herbs, so encouraging sniffing and stuffing participation is a great idea.  Use natural, home-grown or locally-grown scented herbs if possible.  Artificial scents, while initailly soothing, can cause allergies in some and may ultimately be irritating to the endocrine system.  Besides lavender, other popular choices are hops flowers, rose petals from a strong-smelling plant (rugosas are great), and lemon balm.  Recipes for dream pillows can be found all over the internet.  Here are a few….

http://www.gardenguides.com/2098-make-herbal-dream-pillow.html

http://perfectlyimperfect.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/04/shes-crafty.html

5) Provide Thoughful, Intentional Visits: Set up a Monthly, (or better-yet,) Weekly Pre-planned, Themed Visit on the Weekend with a Family Tag-Team, Hired Helper, or You 

Why the weekend?  Because TV stinks, residences tone down or completely omit the most popular activites due to lower staffing, and for many it’s the hardest time to be living alone, semi-alone, or in assisted living because the usually attentive neighbors or staff are slim, are running around busy, and if you don’t have a visitor set up, time can pass very slowly.

It makes a HUGE difference when you make a solid commitment to be sure that someone will be engaging in a very specific, coveted activity with your loved one on a regular, pre-planned day.  We all do our best to visit, whenever we think about it or when something doesn’t tear us away, but once you make it a routine, it eases a lot of stress for the main caregiver, and the person with dementia, whether or not s/he can express it.  Routine is comforting, and a particular well-loved ritual like a baseball game, library time, a museum, zoo, botanical garden, favorite restaurant, or even mall-walking can make someone’s week.  Short and sweet is fine.  An hour limit is sometimes a very good thing, for both the person with dementia and the companion, and be sure to evaluate and choose the best time of day for the person.  In my mother’s case, that means only after her helpful meds have been given and have had time to get assimilated in her system.

Don’t worry if your person won’t or can’t leave home.  You can bring the activity right to the living room.  In this case, pet visits, scrapbook-making, watching a movie together, playing a tossing game, attending a meal, etc. are simple actions that can provide great joy.

We take Mom to the free botanical gardens when the weather cooperates. The flowers never fail to lift her spirits.

I previously wrote about how much I’ve enjoyed the process of hiring a helper to entertain Mom on the weekend day that I take some respite for myself.

Good luck with your holiday planning, and remember to  breathe and take a few steps to minimize stress and enjoy the moment.



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2 Responses to Thoughtful Gifts for People with Dementia: 5 Creative Ideas Beyond the Usual

  1. Ann Byrne says:

    I have been trying so hard to figure out what to get my mother who is suffering from dementia for Christmas I wanted to get her something other than the usuall nightdress and slippers. I am so glad I found this page what wonderful ideas. Thank you so much for sharing them with us.

    Best wishes
    A. Byrne

  2. Bonnie says:

    Regarding the CD player. I found a model, the Muji wall-mounted CD player. It simply holds one CD, the volume is on the top. To play the CD, you just pull the cord (which is the power cord) gently and the CD begins to play. It shuts itself off when it is over, or you can again tug gently on the cord to turn it off. I mounted it up high on the wall for my mother, who is in an assisted living facility. I set the volume for a reasonable level and put a notice down where she can see it that reads “to hear music, tug gently on the cord”. It is as simple as it gets, and she was entranced by the music. I knew it needed to be very simple for her, and this is. The Aides have agreed to change the CD’s every so often, and I left a case of her favorite music. I was so glad to find this solution as I looked for a long time. I highly recommend this player. Just google “muji wall-mounted CD player”.

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