Tips from 12 Caregiving Pros
(plus bonus tips for family caregiver gifts)
Families always ask us what Mom or Dad would most enjoy as a holiday gift.
We have our favorites. For this post, we sought the advice of other seasoned caregivers, too. Here are the gifts we suggest for people with Alzheimer’s. (You’ll find most also are great for other older adults.)
The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Appeal to their Senses
Our experts all recommend gifts that look, taste, smell, sound or feel good.
Most people love the aroma of fresh-baked cookies or the relief of soothing lotion.
Someone with Alzheimer’s is especially sensitive to stimulation. A favorite song, fragrance or fabric stirs more memories and feelings than conversation.
Think of your loved ones’ happiest days. Were they spent resting on a soft picnic blanket, or bundled in Grandma’s afghan? Smiling with grandchildren? Sucking on a butterscotch candy, or sipping a favorite tea? What music and scents wafted through the air?
Bring back these sensations to brighten a long, grey day.
From Expert #1: Deonisia Hernandez
House Manager & Caregiver
Care Haven Homes’ Broadmoor house
People of all ages love lots of little holiday surprises. Bring a small treat every time you visit. Share favorite candies or cookies. Give a mini bottle of lotion, and then massage Mom’s hands. Leave her with a new tube of lip balm, non-skid slipper socks or a pair of warm gloves.
(“Nonskid” is essential. If socks are too bulky to wear with shoes, be sure they have a gripping surface on the bottom of the foot.)
From Expert #2: Sharon Springer
Care Haven Homes
Make Mom and Dad FEEL good. Give soft, flannel pillowcases and fuzzy blankets.
It’s a great time for fun flavors, too. Give a holiday pack of Lifesavers or flavored lip balm. Don’t forget that crowd favorite: the popcorn gift tin.
(But don’t leave a big basket of fruit, jellies or other “spoilables” in your loved ones’ room. Bring just enough for the two of you to share during your visit. OR plan to share with other residents and caregivers. OR ask a caregiver to store the “leftovers.”)
From Expert #3: Teresa Borger
Spectrum Home Health
Create a calendar filled with family pictures from your loved one’s past. Hang it in their personal space, in clear view. There are lots of scrapbooking products and online services from which to choose. Look for a seasonal special.
Hint: If you don’t complete your calendar in time, make it a New Year’s gift. Ask friends and family to bring photos to seasonal gatherings. Have them scan and send high-resolution copies of their favorites. Once you’ve fulfilled your holiday obligations, use your “down time” to finish.
(We’ll add a special request here: Please fill in birthdays, anniversaries and other important family milestones or events. These make great conversation starters for caregivers and visitors.)
The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Keep Them Smiling
Be careful as you stir memories and emotions. Not all are happy. Do your best to make Mom and Dad feel good right now. Distract them from unhappy thoughts by introducing pleasant new sights, smells, tastes and sounds.
From Expert #4: Karen Clond, LMSW
Dementia Care Specialist
Heart of America Alzheimer’s Association
I’m a huge fan of an amaryllis bulb in a pot. Watch it grow and flower during the dreary winter months. (You can force other spring bulbs to bloom, but the amaryllis gives a fantastic show.)
From Expert #5: Linda Harmon
A soft stuffed animal is very comforting. I once worked with a cat lover who no longer had a pet. Her family’s gift of a FurReal kitty, which purred and moved its head, was a huge hit. Mom spent much of her day calmly petting her feline friend!
While that cat lover wasn’t a bird lover, many people are. Consider buying and installing a bird feeder just outside a window. (If Mom is living in a home other than yours, be sure to consult with her caregivers first – bird seed can be hard on grass and landscaping. Please volunteer to take charge of refilling the feeder, too!)
I’d also suggest a digital photo frame loaded with lots of pictures of family and friends, set to change images every several seconds.
From Expert #6: Michael Fleming
Son of a former Care Haven Homes resident
You can’t go wrong with warm, non-skid socks and full slippers for Mom or Dad. Give long sleeve mock turtlenecks to the ladies and flannel shirts to Dad!
(Mike shows he’s an expert when he specifies “full slippers.” Avoid any mule-style, backless slippers. They might slip off while Mom or Dad walks, causing a fall.)
From Expert #7: Jane Knapp
Daughter of a former Care Haven Homes resident
Dad loved the cuddly blanket Jeannine recommended – sheepskin on one side and velveteen on the other. He enjoyed getting new pajamas, too.
He appreciated the way specially designed clothes, like shirts and pants for the wheelchair-bound, made life more comfortable. We even found a winter cape that was fantastic for outings.
Dad loved popcorn, diet soda pop and cookies. He was thrilled to get a new video or a personalized calendar with pictures of his kids and grandkids.
The absolute best gift anyone can give is time. Your loved one appreciates that more than anything else. I often saw sullen residents turn joyful with the arrival of a family member.
The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Create Special Moments
Jane makes a good point. Winter days often seem long and lonely. Things get interesting as soon as visitors appear.
Give your loved one 20 to 60 minutes of your undivided attention. Pledge to stay calm and relaxed, no matter what happens. Join them in their moment, just as they are today.
From Expert #8: Deborah Garnett, RN, PhD
Daughter of a current Care Haven Homes resident
Keep it small and simple. Instead of a big Christmas gift, I “treat” Mom to fun times spent with family.
There are so many ways to give the gift of a better visit:
- I buy small craft projects, games or jigsaw puzzles and keep them in the car. If Mom is in the mood, we dash out to retrieve one and spend a fun visit working together. (On the other hand, if she’s not interested, we leave everything in the car, thus keeping her house uncluttered.)
- I keep a digital photo album of Mom and different family members on my phone. I also keep a photo collage in her room, which we occasionally take down for a closer look. Here’s a special tip: Mom is more engaged when we’re looking at pictures that include her, too!
- Bright flowers are always a hit. Mom enjoys arranging them in a vase and putting them on a table in the living room to share.
- She also loves it when I bring a bag of small candy bars. Again, she loves having something to share, delighting in doling out one or two to each of the other residents.
More Tips for a Better Visit
Whatever present you bring, deliver it with the gift of a quiet visit. Go by yourself or in a group of two or three. Prepare to leave whenever your loved one seems tired, overwhelmed or agitated.
Be sure everyone is healthy. DON’T bring the “gift” of a cold or flu to seniors, whose immune systems are much weaker than yours.
DO consider sharing a toddler’s infectious giggles and smiles with Mom or Dad. Many older adults love seeing babies and young children. Stay awhile if your little one is happily engaged. Bring your visit to a close as soon as she – or Mom – is ready for a nap.
(You’ll find more tips in the articles linked at the bottom of this post.)
Occasionally Consider Becoming a Tour Director
From Expert #9: Caroll Oliver
Patient Care Coordinator
Great Lakes Caring
Take Mom or Dad on a fun outing. For example, I take my mom to lunch. Then we get a manicure or pedicure together.
From Expert #10: Nori Nakamura
Spending time together is a beautiful thing. Take your loved one to a restaurant or Christmas concert, or for a car ride to see Christmas lights. They may not remember the details later, but the positive mood you create lasts long after the event.
(Just be careful while you’re out and about. Check out our 5 winter safety tips, so everyone returns home safe and sound.)
Above All, Bring Joy
From Expert #11: Caroline Dawson
Agewise Advocacy & Consulting
During this over-stimulating season, comfort is one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones. Over-stimulated leads to OVERWHELMED, and they need your help to avoid growing tired, agitated and confused.
Give yourself permission to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Aim to spend time together in calm one-on-one moments or small group gatherings, rather than in an overwhelming celebration. Adjust your expectations – and those of family and friends.
- Are old neighbors asking to visit? Tell them what dates and time work best – even if that means waiting for the new year. Or invite them – one or two at a time – to share an hour looking over favorite photo albums.
- Do family members insist on giving big presents? Try to avoid a big, noisy exchange. Suggest gifts or gift certificates that will bring Mom joy in the new year: coffees, teas, sweets, manicures or movies, to be enjoyed at home or during special outings. (And assure them you’ll remind Mom of their generosity every time you bring out their decadent chocolates!)
- Does the loss of a particular tradition seem too much to bear? Preserve it by passing it on! Teach your children, nieces and nephews to bake Mom’s cookies or carve a roast like Dad. Go ahead and buy tickets to the Messiah or the Nutcracker, and treat a friend to the experience. Spread the joy!
The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Support, Stimulate & Engage
Alzheimer’s is a journey. As you plan gifts, visits or outings, prepare to meet your loved one wherever the road has taken them. Use the past as a guide, but look for clues that they may need or prefer something new.
From Expert #12: Jeanne Reeder
For people in the early stages of dementia:
Give anything that enhances or jogs their memory
- Pocket-sized calendar, diary or notebook
- White erase board (maybe several – one for each room)
- Calendar with family members’ pictures and names (see Expert 3’s suggestions above)
Help with everyday tasks
- Memory phone with pictures accompanying name and contact information
- Clock with the date and time in large type (a much-loved gift that helps caregivers, too)
- Night lights that come on automatically at dusk
Keep them engaged (see Expert 8 above, too)
- Outings to movies, museums, plays or sporting events
- iPod personalized with their favorite music
- DVDs of favorite TV shows (e.g., Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, Golden Girls), musicals or music videos
Concentrate on stimulating the senses as your loved one moves to the middle or late stages (See Experts 1, 2, 6 and 7 above for ideas)
Keep them connected to friends and family
We’ll add one of our favorite holiday suggestions here, for anyone with dementia – but especially for those in the early stages. Help Mom and Dad share their most valuable gifts: talents, recipes, traditions, family history. Show your respect and delight as these treasures are being passed on to you. For example, when you look at old photos together, listen as Mom names the stranger no one else remembers – and tells their story. Thank her for passing on these memories.
Jeanne’s Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget A Gift for the Family Caregiver!
A family caregiver values time, respite and companionship – on their terms.
Deliver a meal once a month. Stay to visit while you share it.
Give a gift certificate for professional services – or a homemade coupon if you’re willing and able – to
- Help with house cleaning, lawn care or snow removal
- Provide respite care
Consider gift certificates that help the caregiver enjoy their respite
- For entertainment, like restaurants, concerts or movies
- For personal services, like a day at the spa, or a massage, manicure and pedicure
- For splurging on their favorite sort of shopping trip: to a craft store, bookstore or boutique
Support them no matter how they choose to spend their time off: perusing an art gallery, catching up on their knitting, enjoying a cup of coffee, attending a support group meeting.
Don’t forget: even little splurges brighten a family caregiver’s difficult days. A box of special teas says you’re thinking of her as she sips her afternoon cup. A luxurious hand cream brings welcome relief to chapped hands as she washes them yet again. Flameless candles add ambiance without raising any safety concerns.
Make It A Season – Not a Day – of Giving
To sum up, don’t stress over dates and deadlines this season. People with Alzheimer’s – and their family caregivers – needn’t be tightly tethered to the holiday calendar.
Something Nori Nakamura said bears repeating. Your loved one
“may not remember the details later, but the positive mood you create lasts long after. . . .”
Don’t worry about presenting the perfect gift on the date you’ve always celebrated. Choose the day you can relax and enjoy together. Ask your loved one’s caregivers if they’re most content and alert at a particular time of day. Check for the quiet times, when other residents and activities won’t distract.
Then, as Caroline Dawson suggests,
“Spread the Joy!”
Enjoy simply being together. When you leave, know that you’ve given Mom or Dad a sense that all is well. That’s a comforting feeling that will last for days to come.
Resources from other sites, to help with this season’s visits
- The Alzheimer’s Association’s holiday guide: Alzheimer’s and the Holidays – Finding Joy in the Season! (Takes a few seconds to load the PDF, but it’s worth the wait.)
- 5 Things to Never Say to a Person with Alzheimer’s
- Communication Strategies for Dementia
- Handling Verbal Outbursts from Elderly Parents