Holidays are a special time of year for loved ones to connect and share laughter and good times.
While it can be difficult to integrate a loved one with dementia into holiday plans, it’s important to include them, as they can and should be part of the celebration.
At the same time, they may find too much noise or too many people or different locations overstimulating. To help them with this, minimize changes to their routines, allow adequate time for rest mixed in with the fun, and enjoy the holidays together!
“What’s a good gift for my loved one with dementia?”
I'm often asked this question, and I share this advice:
A gift for someone with dementia should be chosen based on a couple key considerations.
First, give a gift that matches the person’s lifelong interests or current interests. There’s not a one-size-fits-all gift for individuals with dementia, so ask yourself, “What does or has my loved one enjoyed?”
Next, factor in the stage of dementia that the person is in, as the gift should be safely enjoyed, and it should match the person’s ability level. Here are some examples:
If the individual always loved to crochet, and they’re in the early/mild stage of the disease, giving a simple gift of some yarn, along with the gift of your time to help the person get started on a familiar pattern, would be wonderful. This will enable your loved one to maintain a sense of purpose along with successful engagement in a beloved pastime.
Gifts that center on reminiscence are appropriate for people at all stages of the disease. For example, if your loved one grew up in the ‘40s, you could have a theme gift with music from that era (preferably including a favorite song or artist), photos of your family from that time period, and pictures of celebrities, clothing, and architecture from that era.
Help your loved one take a walk down memory lane, and use the memory tokens to reminisce. Music affects our limbic system, attaching to both memory and emotion. Individuals with dementia can usually sing parts of familiar songs or move to music, even very late in the disease process. And, music helps them retrieve memories that can bring a sense of security and joy.
The gift of your time is your best gift
I say this a lot, but I’ll say it again: The best gift is the gift of your time.
Spending a couple hours going for a walk in a favorite location, playing a simple game, singing familiar songs, preparing and enjoying a meal together, working in the garden together, looking through scrapbooks or photos, laughing, and ending the day with a big hug is the best gift of all!
Though we must simplify activities so our loved ones are safe and successful, most people with dementia can engage in all the activities I describe above, with a loving care partner leading the way.
And don’t forget decorating for the holidays—this is another great way to spend time with your loved one, as they may be able to help put ornaments on the tree, make a cup of cocoa, and sing Christmas carols.
Warmest wishes for enjoying time with your loved ones this holiday season!