Q: My mom has progressed dementia. What can I buy her for the holidays this year?
A: When someone has progressed dementia their memory loss is severe and traditional gifts may no longer be appropriate or useful. However, wanting to do something nice for your mother to recognize holiday traditions and bring her joy is a wonderful idea.
Chose only one or two gifts so that you do not overwhelm her. You may want to give them to her alone without many people around to cause distraction or increase stress.
Go into this process with an open mind and with reasonable expectations. The act of gift giving itself is a beautiful thing. You cannot control how your mom will react to the gift. You just need to know that you are putting thought and love into the gesture and that is enough.
Instead of a wrapped gift, you may want to consider simply doing an activity together that will be a shared experience. Consider baking a recipe together from your childhood or listening to a concert that she would enjoy from her youth. You can create a cozy and comforting environment to enjoy a holiday tradition together.
When thinking of gifts consider your mom’s current abilities, as well as her past interests. For example, if she used to enjoy doing 1000-piece puzzles but now that would be too difficult, you can buy her a 30-piece puzzle (or any amount you think she can handle without frustration). Then, spend time helping her put the puzzle together as an activity you can share.
If she used to enjoy gardening, you may want to buy potted plants and supplies to create a potted garden. If she enjoyed golf, you could get her a putting green to put in her home or yard.
Consider gifts that focus on the act of reminiscence. A photo album you create with old photos of the family is a beautiful gift. You can sit together and look through it. You may want to label the photos with simple words to prompt a memory of who the people are in the photo. Along similar lines, you can have a blanket made with family photos on it.
Sensory activities are another good gift idea for people with dementia. This can include soft blankets, sensory balls, fidget lap blankets or sensory stimulating gel pads.
Another type of gift is one that can be used to spark their creativity. Gifts that encourage art such as simple adult coloring books, paint supplies, crafting materials and stickers can provide an outlet for their artistic side.
Many people with progressed dementia enjoy stuffed animals or dolls. There has been a lot of research on the topic, and it shows that holding and cuddling stuffed animals or dolls brings back happy memories of early parenthood or of pet ownership. There are very realistic pets and dolls made now that can even move or make noises. You may want to consider this if this something that your mother would enjoy.
Do not worry about spending the appropriate amount or having the gift look fancy. The qualities of a gift your mother may have expected to receive years ago are no longer important. Instead focus on something that your mother can enjoy, and that will feel accessible and useful for her current life.
The most important thing is sharing time with your mother and finding ways to bring her the feelings of comfort and love. That is what the holiday season is truly meant to be about.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.