“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” Romans 12:17
Hi all! It is the last weekend before Christmas! Holy Toledo, where has this year gone??? Have you finished buying your Christmas list yet? In the time it takes to read this piece, prices will go up 12 percent, so read fast. 😉 Whelp, while I originally wanted to write more about holiday planning tips, I keep coming back to the need to help folks in our little world find gifts. This is such a hard situation…buying gifts for someone with dementia. Here are some dos and don’ts in choosing a gift:
Do-Find gifts that make the hard days easier. Think simplifying tasks. Perhaps a big number notification clock that tells the time, day, and helps set reminders for meds? You will have to set this up, but they are worth a look. Here are a couple of affiliate links on Amazon I found: LINK LINK. If you can find one that spells out the whole day and month and year, it may help. There are also some that say day/night and/or have a sun/moon or a similar light on board. I have heard that these can help somewhat the sundowning by training your loved one when day and night are happening although this may or may not solve this terrible challenge. (There are other techniques that may help more, such as going on walks only during the day, setting a very regular routine, and winding down and dressing in sleep clothing when it is time to sleep. Here is a helpful piece on that topic.)
Don’t-Don’t forget to consider sense challenges in picking up a gift. Does your loved one have sight or hearing concerns? Buy accordingly. Remember, too, that it is not uncommon at all for sight perception to change dramatically as the disease progresses. He/she can see straight ahead and process that, but the peripheral vision perception will likely decline.
Do- Promote memories with pictures, favorite music, favorite foods, and other things that remind him/her of the good ole days. These are familiar grab bars that they can cling to when they feel anxious. Introducing a lot of new things instead of building on these staples will become counterproductive as time goes on. There are simple-to-operate music players specifically for folks with dementia. One button or one handle is all it takes. LINK LINK
Don’t-Don’t forget to consider usability. One of the characteristics/warning signs of dementia is difficulty in problem-solving. While NOT A STEADFAST RULE, it is more common that he/she will remember things they have done for a long time (or a long time ago) better than newly-learned things. Experiment beforehand and figure out what sparks joy and go in that direction.
Do-Similar to early-stage, think about things that make life easier, but even easier if possible. This is a transition stage and will be quite hard to find just the right gift. Simple organizers are fine, but open/see-through boxes or baskets are even better. Accessibility items may be helpful if he/she is having trouble with fine motor skills.
Don’t- Don’t forget the caregiver. While you may feel miserable not focusing on the loved one with dementia, sometimes the best way you can do so is by helping his/her helpers. Get the caregiver (or yourself) extra respite help. A stronger caregiver is a better caregiver and everyone needs a break to be as strong as they can be. (Remember the almost cliche airline safety speech that always put on the oxygen on yourself first, then those around you that cannot do so for themselves…then you will be able to better help them.)
Do-Consider items that help with anxiety. Two categories of things come to mind here: fidget items and simulated babies/pets. Fidget items include such things as fidget blankets and cuffs/muffs. These are variously-shaped cloth items with things to fiddle around with sewn (very well) to them. You can also tie them on a string or connect them in various ways…but the bottom line is the same: they give your loved one something to do with their hands as a catharsis. I have seen them with toys hooked on, with zippers and clasps, and with big buttons. Tactile feelings can still be nice and you can sew various fabrics to them to make them super pleasing to the touch. Here are some examples: LINK LINK or LINK You can also get them as a bib which can be better at not falling away, but likely not great as an actual eating accessory. Fidget poppers are getting to be all the rage with teens with anxiety disorder, so I suspect, as long as they are big enough, your loved one would enjoy them as well. Simulated items, especially in mid-to late-late stage dementia, are very pleasing to many. Here are some links for simulated babies: LINK LINK and some more for pets: LINK LINK . There are cheaper ones of both of these available as well. Concentrate on their weight and feel, perhaps, over perfect appearance.
Don’t-Don’t be condescending in your presentation of fidget items and don’t talk about them being fake/simulated. Instead, give them, with love, in a matter-of-fact way. “Here, mom, isn’t this sweet??”
Do- Think of his/her past life and buy things similar, but simple. My mom liked her small organ although she preferred a full-sized piano. Your loved one a former banker? Play money and a money drawer might be a fun distraction. Artist? Adult coloring books and soft crayons might just be the cat’s meow. A problem solver/manager type? A larger-pieced puzzle might be fun.
Don’t- Don’t reinvent the wheel. If it normally “works”, find things like that. You will understand what I mean the longer you help.
Do-I like the simulated pets and fidget items for folks in the late stages, but their utility will wane, sadly. Comfort items like soft clothing, slippers (only if they are immobile), and environment enhancements (soothing lights, aromatherapy with a pleasant smell, etc…are all appropriate.
Don’t-Don’t feel guilty if your gift is met with less than stellar results. This is a very hard time and his/her cognitive ability is very weak. Assume that the “old version” of them would like it and that you did your best (Offer yourself dump trucks of grace for the effort) and don’t take results personally.
Do-Do the most important thing here and in all of the stages: Give the gift of time and love and respect. Gentle hugs and hand-holding will go a lot further than any present anyway.
Don’t- Don’t give up. Keep praying for him/her, the best gift you can offer. Don’t stop coming/helping. Don’t throw up your hands and assume he/she doesn’t care….emotions are hard for someone in this stage. Assume the best, that they accept your love and gifts and smile.
I would love your ideas in this area! Please post them in the comments below and I will add them. 🙂 Oh, and keep fighting with all you have to #EndALZ !
Update: I have seen mom a few meals this week and will again in a few hours. She is about the same. She is still eating. If we wash her face before the meal, she is more alert. 🙂 She is still strong and doing her very best. It has been a challenging holiday season, as were the last few, but her challenges will soon be over, replaced with glory unspeakable in heaven. 🙂
End-of-year gift idea? How about donating some extra (LOL…does anyone have extra these days???) cash to two wonderful senior non-profits in the name of your loved one? Here is my link: LINK. 100% of the money will be split evenly between the Alzheimer’s Association and SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging. It is my June Longest Day Fundraiser…please read about it and consider giving. Last year we raised $6000-ish dollars and this year I want to break $10,560 (5280 x 2 in honor of mom’s favorite number and the fact that I, a 250-pound dad-bod, will be running double last year’s run. I am a goober…but I really want a cure for mom, my uncle, the Sweet 17, and your loved one with the disease. We’ll figure out the solution to the dementia puzzle and your tax-deductible donation will help us get there 🙂 Read more about my run here and last year’s run here. Thank you very much! I would love to get to the first $1000 by the end-of-year. We can do it. 🙂
Just a reminder too…Tuesday is the virtual support group at 5pm CST and the in-person one following at 6pm in Springfield, Mo. If you would like a zoom invite and/or be on the support group mailing list, please call or text me at 417-955-2513. I have had folks from a dozen states on the zoom, so you don’t have to be local at all. 🙂 If you need help and it isn’t a support group day, feel free to call/text me or, probably easier, call the Alzheimer’s Association’s Toll-Free Help Line at 1-800-272-3900. This is an AMAZING resource!!! They are staffed by professionals (better than me) 24/7/365 who talk to people non-stop on the topi. I know quite a bit, but I am a novice compared to these ninjas.