gifts for elderly

Gifts for Elderly:

More Ideas and Tips for Spending Quality Time with Elderly with Dementia

Gifts for elderly can be more than just flowers and chocolates. Often, the greatest gift we can give to our loved one is spending more time together.

A wonderful gift for elderly with dementia is for you to learn how to improve the quality of the time you spend together.

Not only will this be a gift for them, it will also be a gift for you.

Spending time with a loved one with dementia can be frustrating - but it doesn't have to be that way.

There are a number of tips and ideas to help you make the time you spend with your loved one more enjoyable - for everyone.

Having watched many frustrated children and grandchildren feel upset about not connecting with their aging parent/grandparent, I put together some suggestions that will help.

Remember Your Approach

Come in slowly, take your time, make sure to make eye contact and see how your loved one is doing today. Really connect with them.

The best gifts for elderly sometimes involve more than just going to the store and picking out a present - they may not require us to pay with money but with our time, our heart and our patience.

Compliment, Compliment

Compliments are always welcome (and do not require much response). "I love your shirt, Berta!", "You're looking handsome today, Bill."

Also, find out what the person was good at (their gift) or loved and highlight it often.


  • I've heard you're very handy.
  • So, you're a good hunter. Have you bagged any big game?
  • I am a terrible cook. I wish I was a great cook like you!
  • I hear you love music. Did you play the piano?
  • I heard you make a wonderful roast. I bet your kids love that!

Again, these are not standard gifts for elderly - but are arguably more meaningful.

Bring Something

To Talk About: it never hurts to have something to talk about, especially if your loved one has difficulty communicating or no longer talks. Bring something that was of interest to your aging parent; whether it be a book of pictures, a family album, or a recent sewing project.

Bring Gifts for elderly: wrap them up. If your aging parent cannot remember from day to day, you can always take the gifts home and bring them back again (to avoid unnecessary cost and clutter).

Improving Communication

If your loved one no longer makes much sense or has difficulty answering questions, try to make it easier on them.

  • Ask questions like, "Your mom was a good cook, wasn't she?" (this only requires a yes/no answer or you can continue from there "Oh yes, I remember, she made the best roast around."
  • Try to turn questions around so they can be answered with a yes or no.
  • Affirm their conversation (even if it doesn't make sense): "wow", "Mhmm", "Oh yes"
  • If they are upset, affirm that: "I would be upset too."
  • If you say "I heard Linda called you last night" the response might be "She didn't call! Why doesn't she ever call?" Instead, try saying "I talked to your daughter Linda. She is such a nice lady! You must be a wonderful mother!"
  • Open ended questions can be difficult: instead of "What is your favourite thing to eat?", you can try giving a choice "Do you like steak or meatloaf better?" If they have trouble answering from two options, try: "Do you like steak?"

As I've said above, these gifts for elderly are more difficult and involve more of ourselves than simply buying a small present (flowers or chocolates). They force us to improve ourselves so that we can improve the connection we have with our loved ones.

Tips for Switching from Short-term to Long-term Memory

As mentioned above, with Alzheimer's dementia - and some other dementias - short-term memory usually goes first and long-term memory sticks around longer. So trying to stick to long-term memory conversations is usually easier on your loved one.

For example, if you're just trying to make conversation and you ask a person with dementia "What did you have for lunch?" the answer might be "I didn't have lunch, can you make me a sandwich?" (when you know they just ate a full meal). Instead, ask them "what do you like to eat for lunch?" or, if it needs to be simpler "Do you like eating a sandwich for lunch?"

My Grandma is a clear example of this, she has her long term memory but her short term memory is poor.

She couldn't tell you what she had for lunch 30 minutes ago but could tell you all about her experiences growing up on the farm. The conversation goes much smoother if we stick to what she remembers - the memories from earlier in her life.

Consider Replacing Valuable Things with a Look Alike

  • If you"re worried about your mom"s (very expensive) wedding ring in the nursing home, replace it with a less valuable look-alike
  • Things often go missing in care facilities, consider using photocopies of irreplaceable photos
  • Make sure the teacup in your mother's memory box is a replacement from the thrift store, not the family heirloom

Gifts for elderly do not have to be expensive to be enjoyable and appreciated. They can be simple thoughtful, meaningful gifts such as photo albums or family history books. Just remember to have a duplicate in case they get damaged or lost.

Keep Introducing Yourself

If they don't remember you are their daughter and saying this will upset them, introduce yourself as "I'm Pauline, I know your wife/ aunt/ etc."

Or you could try bringing a picture of yourself when you were little and asking your aging parent "Who is this little boy?" This way you can still have a family relationship with your parent but just a different kind of relationship.

Ask Them to Teach You

Ask your loved one to teach you something (anything). Don't be afraid to do this over and over if they don't remember.

Provide Small Tasks

  • Sorting silverware
  • Shoveling snow (if they are physically well enough)
  • Folding laundry
  • Wrapping up a doll in a blanket or changing its clothes
  • Wrapping yarn back into a ball for knitting
  • Anything they are familiar with that is a task easy enough to their level

Sometimes it might help to give them a reason for the task, ie. "We're having a party tonight and I need the silverware organized."

These may sound like "bad" gifts for elderly but the point is to create meaning and purpose - to give your loved ones more than just a physical present that you can wrap up.

Ask for Help

Ask them to help you move boxes, make the bed, clean the closet, sweep, rake, peel carrots, water the garden, etc. Find projects they enjoy and do them together every day if they don't remember day to day.

Simplify tasks and remember it's about the process, not the outcome.

Focus on the enjoyment/distraction the task provides to your loved one, not that it gets done to perfection (or even partial completion).

Ask for Advice

Ask for advice, but don't expect a logical answer.

Acknowledge Others as Friends

This will help your loved one to feel safe and accepted in their environment.

If they see you are friends with the people around them, they will be more likely to feel comfortable being friends with them.


Music can often be wonderful therapy and make excellent gifts for elderly.

Including old songs from an earlier generation can trigger old memories and be very rewarding. Soothing music can be calming. Sing a song they know.

Some of the best gifts for elderly involve music - whether it's taking them to their favourite singer or listening to records that they enjoy. Music brings back memorable times for people - both young and old.

I know one adult son that makes a point to always listen to a radio program with his mother that plays music from when she was younger. From my perspective, these are true gifts for elderly and are more meaningful than another set of socks or box of chocolates.

Noisy Environments

Remember, noisy situations can be stressful.

If this is the case for your loved one, try to avoid noisy situations. If there is no way to avoid them, have a person appointed to sit with your loved one. Switch off with other family at family get-togethers, at reunions, in restaurants or malls.

Remember that not all elderly enjoy the same things. Your neighbour may have an aging parent that loves to go to a busy restaurant to eat - well it might not be the best place for your loved one. Gifts for elderly - especially for elderly with dementia - need to take into consideration that they may not enjoy noisy environments.

Age Appropriate - If They're Happy, Who Cares?

Don't worry if what your aging person is doing is not age appropriate; go with where they are at in their head.

If a sippy cup is required because your loved one no longer has the dexterity or cognitive ability to sip from a regular cup, that's ok. If this helps them to get more fluids, then great.

If any technique you're using (your 95 year old grandmother dressing and undressing her dolly and hugging it and calling it her baby) helps to calm and make your loved one's life better, go with it!

Ask yourself, does it hurt anybody? Does it help my loved one? (if yes, you have your answer)

Some gifts for elderly could be "sippy cups" if your senior needs one.

Simple Directions

Make your instructions simple and give them one-at-a-time.

I hope it's clear - Improving how we interact with our loved ones is one of the greatest gifts for elderly we can give.

Source: Jolene Brackey: Creating Moments of Joy


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