Choosing the perfect gift can leave you racking your brain for that item that won't just get stuffed in a closet. When a loved one has dementia or Alzheimer's, it can present an extra challenge.
First you want to consider what your loved one's currently ability level is. What will they be able to use and enjoy? What needs do their dementia symptoms create that you could find a gift for?
Then also consider what kinds of things they enjoyed before dementia, and see if you can find anything that falls in line with those interests. In the earlier stages, your gifts might not look all that different from before.
I've had a lot of wonderful caregivers contribute their gifts ideas, so hopefully you will find something that sparks ideas for your own loved one as well.
Fun & Engaging Gifts
Gifts that give your loved one a bit of fun, alleviate boredom, give them some positive distraction, allow them to be creative and productive are a wonderful idea. These types of gifts can also help soothe agitation or anxiety, which might manifest as pacing, repetitive questions, picking at their skin, fiddling and fidgeting.
Coloring books are a great choice and can be used as an activity across generations. The Color Your Mind coloring book by Maria Shriver is specifically designed for those with dementia. Large Print coloring books by Lilt Kids come in many themes - including corgis!
Puzzles come in different difficulty levels, so adjust to what you think your loved one can handle. Go for larger pieces that can't be swallowed. Try jigsaw puzzles by Active Minds designed specifically for people living with dementia, or simple wooden puzzles by Melissa & Doug for people with more advanced dementia.
When choosing games, consider their ability level, and look for something with pieces that are less likely to be confused with candy or food and can't be swallowed. Familiar favorites like Uno or Rummikub or dominos can be adjusted to your loved one's ability. This pattern matching game could also be used for simple sorting once the patterns become too difficult to manage. Classic games like Chutes & Ladders can cross generations.
Blocks keep hands busy, and so often in dementia, busy hands can help to quiet the mind. There are so many fun block options available now! As always, look for bigger pieces that can't be swallowed. Interlocking blocks like these bristle blocks and waffle blocks attach easily. This block sorting cube is another fun colorful option.
Art & craft kits come in all types. Simpler is better, avoid adhesives or any toxic ingredients that would be dangerous if ingested, and stay away from those small pieces if they will be using them unsupervised. For something you can do together, even as a family, a watercolor kit from Let's Make Art. Lacing cards are nice because they are reusable. Mess-free Color Wonder art kits and Aquapaint Reusable Water Painting encourage creativity while containing mess.
Fidget blankets, cushions, mats, and muffs could be made by you or purchased handmade from a site like Etsy. They are a great way to keep hands and minds engaged, and can double as a comforting cozy object.
Fidget boxes and boards are another way to contain that restless energy. You could put together a box with colored pompoms and a variety of other interesting and textured items to sort and fiddle with (but not small enough to swallow!), cards to match up, socks to pair, washcloths to fold, anything that would keep them engaged. Or you could make a board with various locks and latches to twiddle. If DIY is not your thing, here's a readymade latches board by Melissa & Doug.
Gifts to Spark Memories
As dementia progresses, older memories are more accessible than newer memories, so gifts that help your loved one revisit a past they can still remember can be very soothing. Guide them towards conversational topics where they can feel successful by talking about the past.
There are coloring books on all kinds of themes, so find some that relate to interests from earlier in their lives. They can keep your loved one engaged and maybe serve as a conversation starter as well. Do a search for an interest of theirs plus "coloring book" and see what pops up. For example, I found a Classic Cars coloring book and a 1950s Coloring the Past coloring book.
Record their life story for Story Corps if they are in earlier stages, or create a deck of "Life Review" cards from the StoryCorps questions that friends and family can ask to spark conversation.
A game like Match the Sayings is a fun way to engage, and these kinds of phrases they've known all their lives might linger longer in their memory.
Photo gifts can bring back happy memories for your loved one, and can also help your loved one better recognize the people who are in their life now. You can do photo books with simple captions identifying people by name and relationship. Or create a photo slideshow on DVD, and if you know how to get fancy, add narration. My new favorite fad: photo socks because, come on, it's your face on socks! There are also photo pillows, blankets, coasters, and anything else you can put photos on...there is really no limit...Google it and I'm sure it's out there.
Music stays in memory longer than many other types of memory, so music from their younger years makes a great gift, like these Love Songs from the 40s & 50s or songs by Classic Crooners.
Simple Music Player is designed for those with dementia so they can enjoy music on an easy-to-use device with basic controls.
Classic movies & TV shows they used to love might be more familiar to them than newer shows, and more comforting, if following dialog and plot lines has become difficult. A couple of favorites I found available are The Carol Burnett Show and Gilligan's Island.
Gifts for Making Life Easier
Dementia can make a lot of common tasks very challenging, so gifts that help your loved one do the things they want to do can make your and their lives easier. Gifts that allow them to maintain even a little bit of independence are a great choice. Minimizing frustration and confusion can go a long way in decreasing anxiety and agitation.
A clock designed for those with dementia stating the day of the week, the date, whether it's morning, afternoon, or night can help them stay more oriented.
Adaptive clothing can make it easier to get dressed and stay dressed. I love that items like this snap-back sweater and this Velcro-tab "button-down" shirts are easy to get on but are still beautiful pieces that don't look "adaptive."
A simple remote control for when the usual remote has become too difficult to navigate.
Red dishware has been shown to make it easier for those with dementia to see their food, and can be especially useful for those who don't tend to eat quite enough.
A tracking device, like Tile could be useful for keeping track of regularly lost items, and also help keep track of your loved one if they are prone to wandering.
Dementia-friendly electronics like a simplified landline phone, cell phone, or tablet (which is called a Grandpad, and that just tickles me) could make it easier for them to stay connected.
A headset to help hear the TV.
Voice controlled devices like the Amazon Echo Dot/Spot/Show and the Google Home Assistant can be invaluable to your loved one with dementia, especially in the earlier stages, and possibly into the middle stages. There are so many ways it can be used that I could write pages about just this. Alexa and the Google Assistant never tire of answering questions, can provide reminders, help communicate with others, provide entertainment, and with the video versions (Amazon Spot/Show or Google Home Hub) can give you a way to "drop in" on your loved one if you are worried about them but can't be present. In the later stages, they won't be able to use such devices on their own, but it might still be helpful to have around so that others can set them to play music.
Gifts to Soothe & Comfort
Gifts that give comfort are great at any stage, but especially in the later stages when gifts in the other categories are beyond their abilities.
Weighted blankets and lap pads have become extremely popular, and can calm your loved one when agitated and also facilitate better sleep. **Be sure to discuss this with your loved one's medical provider as there are certain medical conditions that do not combine well with weighted products.**
Fuzzy socks (with anti-slip grips) or a robe or anything else cozy to wrap up in, if your loved one tends to be on the always-cold side.
On the cozy front, I have to give this fleece photo blanket it's own spot here. This has the soothing coziness and the love of familiar faces.
A doll to cuddle and care for has been shown effective for calming many with dementia. You can go for a realistic baby doll, or a therapy doll that doubles as a fidget tool.
As with a doll, a lifelike companion pet can provide comfort and also give a sense of meaning as it gives them something to care for, like the Perfect Petzzz Orange Tabby or the Joy for All Golden Retriever Pup. The TwiddlePup Sensory Aid is not exactly lifelike, but combines the cuteness of a pup with elements of a fidget blanket/cushion.
Basic stuffed animals can also provide great comfort. This little stuffed parrot toy is in memory of my grandmother, who loved her own little green parrot doll and found such joy in caring for it when she had Alzheimer's. Miss you, Mummu.
Tangle therapy relax tool is designed to keep hands busy and quiet the mind.
A bird feeder or squirrel feeder hung where they can watch provides happy distraction and entertainment.
I hope this list is helpful and gets your gift ideas flowing. Whatever you choose for your loved one, I wish you a blessed holiday season together.
These are all just products I like and want to make it easier for you to find them. No links are affiliate links. I get nothing out of this other than the supreme joy of helping you.