This is the time of year for good cheer, holiday music, mistletoe, family get-togethers and gift giving. When it comes to a loved one who has dementia, here are a few things that you probably should not consider giving.
Some Aren't As Obvious As Others
Candles, kitchen knives and firecrackers: these are obvious safety hazards. But there are lots of things that can be hazardous in the hands of someone with Alzheimer’s disease that might not be as obvious. We know of a man living in a care community who disassembled the plumbing under the sink in his bathroom and flooded his suite. Tools can be a great gift, but not for everyone. There are many nice gifts that are designed to keep hands busy but won’t be much help in taking apart pipes.
In other words, consider the limitation imposed by a condition like dementia. This probably comes naturally to you if you are involved directly in the care of someone with a cognitive or memory disorder, but if you are looking for a gift for a friend’s mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, these limitations may not be as evident to you.
Adjust the Difficulty of Favorite Past Times
Here are some basic considerations. She probably likes to do many of the things she used to enjoy, but not at the same level. Jigsaw puzzles can be a fine gift for someone who enjoys jigsaw puzzles, but a 1000 piece puzzle might only frustrate her. There are appropriate puzzles with fewer than 100 pieces, some with as few as 6. The difficulty level needs to be appropriate. We don’t recommend puzzles that depict food in later stages: a picture of food might be mistaken for the food itself and eaten. It happens more than you would think. Similarly, lotions (another nice gift generally) might be mistaken for something to drink.
Remember What She Doesn't Remember
Some of the potential gifts on our not-recommended list are not so obvious. Here’s a Christmas story that Holly, co-owner of Best Alzheimer’s Products, likes to tell about a time she joined Bernice and one of Bernice’s friends for the holiday celebration at the community Bernice lived in at the time:
After dinner, I brought Bernice and Mary back to their wing and had them stand in front of the Christmas tree to take a picture. I thought this was a good idea because when they looked at the photo they would see the tree and know that this was a picture taken at Christmas. So I framed a picture for each one of them and labeled it 'Bernice and Mary, Christmas 2007.' The next week I went over at lunchtime and presented the picture to each one of them.
Funny, yes! But also instructive. It is the nature of Alzheimer’s disease that recent memories are the first memories to be lost. Bernice and Mary did not remember that they had grown old, and as you can see, it came as quite a shock to both of them. That kind of shock is unnecessary, especially during the holidays. Give her instead some older photographs that she can reminisce over, perhaps nicely framed or presented in a new album.
We sell a lot of DVDs, but we don’t recommend full-length movies as gifts for people with cognitive disorders. We sell books, but don’t recommend novels. Plots are hard to follow for someone who has difficulty remembering the beginning of a story by the time the end of the story is reached. Our DVDs are interactive, involve short, interest-based vignettes, or are simply based in nature. No plots to follow. Our books are mostly activity books, to be enjoyed in the moment as they help to exercise and stimulate the brain.
Memory is Not the Only Thing Affected by Alzheimer's
It’s not just memory that is affected by Alzheimer’s disease and most other dementias. Cognitive abilities are also impacted. If a friend used to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday, it might only cause frustration as he or she progresses through the stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s. But there are simpler crossword puzzle collections available that may be just the thing to bring them joy. The same is true of most activities; stage-appropriate versions and alternatives can often be found.
If in doubt, talk to the person or people who are most directly involved with the care of the person you are buying a gift for, or call us. We don’t know the individual, but we will do what we can to make suggestions. If you are a caring for someone with dementia, use the wish list on our store to share suggestions with other family members. The wish list can be emailed to anyone who wants to find a good gift for a friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
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