By Marie Vaudry - Caregiver and Founder of Gleam in Your Eye
There are many times when we wonder what to offer to our loved ones ... This is, even more, the case when they are suffering from a cognitive impairment because it is difficult to find suitable gifts given the change in abilities, skills, and interests of the person.
No matter the disease, a "good" gift is a fun and useful gift that will help to cope better with the disease, slow its progression, or have a good time together.
So here are ten things to consider when choosing the best gift for a loved one with Alzheimer's. On each tip, we give you advice on making the right choice but also some gift ideas :
- to find in stores
- or to make by yourself with things from home, and you will find inspiring examples.
For Your Ideas, Get set, Offer!
1/ Keep it simple!
Do not choose something too complicated, that would require new learning, or with too many rules of use. It should be easy for your loved one to use it. Keep in mind that small daily successes will help them maintain good self-esteem. This is essential.
For example, you can give them a gift to carry out activities they have already done or know as:
Read also Success is key!
Make a deck of cards with a photo and the name of an object on the front. On the back, write 2 or 3 questions that have neither right nor wrong answers to promote discussion and memory. For example, if you are choosing a photo of a dog, ask the following questions:
- What's your favorite name for a dog?
- What is a dog's favorite food?
- Have you ever had a dog?
Here is a sample card to inspire you ...
2/ Keep your loved one active!
It’s better to choose a gift that can help to pass the time, as inactivity can increase restlessness and anxiety. Physical, manual, or brain activities are crucial to keep them busy and slow the progression of the disease. It is recommended to do about 20 minutes of activity per day, but beware of excess, which will cause fatigue and stress.
You can opt for:
- a puzzle
- or why not an audiobook if the person has difficulty reading.
Make a small coloring book by looking for suitable models: the drawings must be rough because coloring very small areas may be too difficult. You can also indicate the color to put on each area by a number. Do not propose more than 4 colors (area 1 in green / area 2 in blue / area 3 in yellow and area 4 in red).
For inspiration, look here at the type of coloring suitable for a person with Alzheimer’s disease at a moderate stage.
3/ Maintain social relationships
Having an active social life can reduce stress and brighten the day. The best gift for your loved one with dementia will of course remain your faithful and warm presence by their side. Never forget it despite appearances!
- take your loved one to an exhibition
- or attend a show
If the disease is too advanced, you can offer to reread their favorite book. To help them find the thread of the story, take some brief notes on key events and characters during the reading. Read these notes together as soon as you resume reading day after day.
You can offer them a “VOUCHER FOR” to go for a walk by your side. So they will be able to choose when they want to use the voucher… Do not hesitate to make this moment fun and enjoyable by deciding to count your steps, walk like a soldier or look for objects of a certain color. Even if your loved one has lost the sense of direction, a little walk will do them a lot of good!
4 / Maintain cognitive functions
Whatever the stage of the disease, a gift that will help your loved one think, concentrate or even develop strategies is a great idea. For example, consider:
- board games
- or puzzles
They can range from very simple to very complicated. So be careful: it is better to choose one that is too easy that the person will enjoy succeeding than one that is too hard that will fail. So choose games with simple instructions and colored pieces.
You can easily put together a puzzle. On a bit of card stock, write the sentence your loved one always says or something that characterizes them. Cut it into 5 or 6 pieces and have fun putting the puzzle together with your loved one. Ask them what this sentence makes them think ... Explain your choice of words and engage in a conversation.
5/ Maintain physical capabilities
The more active your loved one is, the less quickly they will lose their physical abilities. Do not hesitate, for example, to offer them:
- Gardening tools (be careful, not sharp) that will allow them to spend some time outdoors and maintain their motor functions
- Also, you can buy DIY kits, an activity that promotes logic and thinking. Not to mention it will make your loved one feel useful!
With the help of your loved one, you can create a nice booklet with their favorite flowers dried and glued inside and some essential information: the name, the color in general, and the season. Finding the flowers can be a nice idea for a walk together.
6/ Keep it practical to make their life easier
Bringing them comfort will always be a great comfort. Think of:
- a pretty, very cozy blanket
- or a warm cardigan. But be careful, there should be a zipper on the front to make it easier to put on.
Sick people often tend to be confused over time. Creating a personalized calendar or diary with important events in family life is a great gift idea for people with dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
7 / Help activate memories
The first instinct would be to offer a photo album with the best memories: the events, the places, the people who count, and why not also the photo of the dishes they love… Good idea.. but be careful, show them these pictures only if they want to. It shouldn’t make them uncomfortable not to remember, and watching the album shouldn’t look like an interrogation “Do you remember him? name? etc… This would bring stress and be counterproductive. It is also better not to put pictures of dead people in order not to upset them.
Why not create a very simple family tree? Do it with pictures of loved ones who are part of their life today: people who visit or contact them from time to time. Depending on the person's ability level, you can either paste the photos directly or put a clue to associate the picture with the person.
For inspiration, look here:
8/ Provide sensory experience
At a certain stage of the disease, sensory gifts will be most useful for dementia patients. Helping them to have memories through smells, for example, is a great idea. So you can offer:
- a scented candle
- or their favorite fragrance to always have that smell on them.
Allowing them to listen to the music they love will have a very soothing effect. Create their best playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, or Deezer… and share it with them. Be careful, respect the original versions because they may not recognize the remastered ones. Smile effect guaranteed!
9/ Give a sense of accomplishment
Choosing a gift they will build or make is a great way to give them confidence. For example, you can choose:
- a puzzle
- or a suitable tangram game they will enjoy playing alone or with help.
Choose a photo that is dear to them. Take cardboard, glue, and paint to make a “homemade” frame with their help. They will enjoy accomplishing something and will be proud of the achievement. Place the freshly framed photo on their nightstand.
10/ Make it fun!
The best gift is the one that will bring joy. Remember the journey through illness is exhausting and stressful, so sharing good times, for example, by playing with your loved one is a great gift.
Look for good words or jokes and print them out. If you have any memories of very funny moments you shared together, do not hesitate to mention them as well. Put all the small papers in a box or a pretty little pouch closed by a link, to be able to keep them without everything spilling over. When you feel your loved one is a little depressed, go get the bag and pick a good joke!
I hope all these tips have been useful for you… and your loved one!
If you want to know more about our box of adapted activities for moderate stage dementia that can be delivered every month, watch a short video here :
Take care! And do not hesitate to give me feedback with email@example.com.
By Marie Vaudry
CareGiver of her mother, France, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at 59 years old
and Founder of Gleam in Your Eye, a company dedicated to bringing joy to the life of people who are living with dementia