Gifts for Elderly:
Spending Quality Time with Elderly with Dementia
Gifts for elderly do not have to be physical gifts that you wrap up and give on your loved one's birthday or at Christmas, although those are always welcome!
They can be simply be the giving of your time and energy.
Sometimes spending time with elderly with dementia can be frustrating but it doesn't have to be.
You can make it more enjoyable by using a few tips on how to make it more meaningful - which I describe below.
The following gifts for elderly ideas were discussed in more detail in the article Gifts for Elderly: Spending Quality Time Together.
Please read that article for additional information.
More Dementia Related Articles:
Tap into Interests
When considering gifts for elderly that involve spending quality time with your loved one, tapping into their interests is key.
Spending time asking about their lives at every stage can help find topics of interest to share or discuss.
If your aging parent's main focus is family, make sure to let them know what's going on with your family and their other extended family.
It's also valuable to talk to them about their interests at different stages of their life. Sometimes re-visiting riding a horse as a youngster, even if they haven't ridden for many years, can be very enjoyable.
Whether it is cooking, fishing, farming, tennis, music - spending time on any interest or passion can be a wonderful way to spend time with your loved one.
Time With Loved Ones
Spending time together is always a gift, even if your loved one no longer speaks or doesn't recognize you.
When spending time:
- Don't rush them
- Validate what they are saying
- Don't correct them
- Discuss and do activities of interest
- Stimulate memories and accomplishments
- Do simple, familiar tasks (folding laundry, putting away utensils, rolling yarn, etc.)
- Walking: just going for a walk together, if you want to make it more intimate, you can hold hands as you walk
- Simplify outings by just going on short country drives, visiting friends at their place, watching children play at a park, feeding ducks, or going for a walk in a quiet neighbourhood. Avoid eating at restaurants - which are noisy and can be confusing - especially during prime hours.
- If they can no longer go out, remember to celebrate the seasons indoors: bring in seasonal flowers or plants, bring in seed packets, bring in a snowball or icicle, decorate their room for the season, bring in fresh fruit or vegetables, drink lemonade, etc.
- Remember the simple things: a good way to think about this is to think about the things you enjoyed as a child - watching animals play, looking at the clouds in the sky, getting a back rub, eating ice cream, having your hair braided, etc.
- Share your life, but remember to share only the positive aspects (your aging parent likely no longer has the ability to help with the "bad" stuff and may just find this upsetting)
Although it's hard to wrap up and deliver the gift of "time with loved ones", it's one of the most common suggestions for gifts for elderly.
Picture albums make great gifts for elderly - thoughtful, fun and a excellent conversation starter.
Some tips for making picture albums enjoyable for your loved one with dementia:
- Write the names of people, dates, event (if appropriate) under each picture
- If your aging parent is in a nursing home, consider using color photocopies (or duplicates). This way, if any of the pictures get damaged or go missing, they are easily replaced.
- Having written names and events under pictures will not only help to remind your aging parent but will also help others (staff included) to stimulate conversation with these pictures and get to know your aging parent better
- If they are living in one period of their life (ie. They believe they are in their 20's), make an album just for this time period
Family History Books
My Grandma loves looking at her family history books. They make great gifts for elderly.
Some tips for making family history books enjoyable for your loved one with dementia:
- Family history books will usually already have the names of people, dates and events under pictures
- If your family history book has few pictures and your aging parent is no longer able to read, consider trying to add as many photocopied pictures as possible
- This again gives staff a way to understand, know and connect with your aging parent
Remember, with dementia, usually the short-term memory fades first and the long-term memory stays intact for longer. So the type of old memories Family History Books or Photo Albums can offer can still be gems!
Simply Being Remembered
Even if you don't think your loved one is aware of their birthday or a special anniversary, being remembered still counts!
See our page about Touch with suggestions for how to incorporate touch for aging parents or elderly loved ones.
- Touch is important to all people but not all people like to be touched.
- Particularly if your loved one has dementia, start slow and check the person's reaction
- Ask before touching
- Holding hands when sitting or walking can be nice
- Offer touch from animals if they love animals
- A warm embrace can be soothing and therapeutic
- What better gifts for elderly than holding a loved one? (and a gift for you too!)
Particularly if a person has memory loss, mail can read over and over!
- Staff can read mail to your loved one and get to know them at the same time. This might help staff to get to know who your loved one is (and was) better and see them more as people, not as their disease.
- If your loved one is not living in the present moment, fond stories of the past or memories are often the best to write about or share.
- Mail may feel comfortable and welcome to them as this used to be the most typical way to communicate.
- Sending gifts for elderly in the mail can be a delightful surprise.
Memories are a strong way to help connect to your loved one. It gives a topic of conversation that can highlight interests and strengths.
- If you've been lucky enough to make a memory collection before your aging parent was unable to remember all their memories, great! If not, don't despair, there are still lots of ways to collect their memories!
- If you didn't have a chance to ask about a person's life, their memories or their strengths; you can ask their friends and family. Or get some books of old settings and items and see if they recognize them.
- If you've had the chance for them to share their stories, write them down! You can read the stories back to them when they are no longer able to recount them.
- Memories can stimulate conversations about so many things: the radio (before TV was in every home), the chicken coop, wood stoves, their first kiss, their wedding day, when the children were born, the trouble they used to get up to as kids, raising their own kids, etc.
- These stories can be shared with staff if your loved one is in a nursing home. This can help staff to find a way to connect with your loved one.
- Once you have some memories collected, use the senses and conversation to help bring memories back.
If your aging parent used to live on a farm and loved farming, you might bring in some fresh hay to tempt their senses (the smell of the hay, the feel of it on their skin, the sound of it when it rubs together, etc.).
Or stimulate a conversation about haying. "I heard the best time of year to hay is in May, is that true?" "I remember how darn heavy those hail bails were, don't you?"