If your loved one has recently been diagnosed, this can mean the first time of approaching this festive season differently.
Understandably, this can also mean moments of sadness, confusion and uncertainty.
This has been felt by many going through this stage and it’s important to note that you are not alone.
Revisiting tips for caring for people with dementia, coupled with gift ideas, can help to guide you and your loved one to have a special time this holiday season.
Not limited to just the holidays, these possibilities can also be used for birthdays and the day-to-day to encourage joy, dignity and connection.
Thoughtful and personalised
When thinking about what to get someone living with dementia, it is helpful to take a step back and think through some important elements.
What stage of dementia do they have? What interests do they have? What experiences have brought about joy in the past?
This means being mindful of the person’s former lifestyle, their work, treasured hobbies, leisure and social pursuits, travel and significant life occurrences.
Each person with dementia is unique and so taking the time to understand nuances can help guide and personalise the ideal gift.
For loved ones in the earlier stages of dementia, it’s helpful to be guided by gifts that will stimulate their mind, encourage remembrance and facilitate socialisation.
Mental strengthening books with crosswords, sudoku and others can help keep their brain active and reduce the development of the disease.
Assistive products such as smart speakers can also enable more independent living and self-determination.
A person with middle to later stages of dementia may benefit from gifts that tap into hobbies and interests from their younger years.
Sensory stimulation can be a great way to trigger happy memories and feelings, from getting a greatest hits compilation of their favourite artists and dancing along, to watching a collection of classic films.
Being exposed to these types of stimulation can bring about engagement via the mental and physical.
It might seem an easier option to get a gift that can be wrapped and easily opened by your loved one with dementia.
However, approaching gifts from an experiential viewpoint can oftentimes create opportunities for even greater engagement, dignity and joy.
Every human, those with and without dementia, thrive from both purpose and pleasure.
The need for a good quality life never diminishes, and while age and stage of dementia may vary abilities, meaningful activity is still vital.
Dementia Australia highlights elements to be mindful of when planning an activity or gift:
If your loved one enjoyed dancing, look up local dance studios in your neighbourhood and reach out about the possibilities they offer.
Many countries and studios are starting to cater directly to those with dementia to provide an engaging time for all.
A 93-year-old in Canada was brought to a dance class called Movement to Music. She had a wonderful time and enthusiastically followed the teacher’s moves, her eyes bright and a huge grin on her face.
Being able to be around animals, mesmerised by colours, shapes and creatures they’ve loved can be a wondrous time for someone with dementia.
Think about pairing the experience with a colouring book of fish or farm animals to continue the experience once home and to carry on the experience into the coming weeks.
Another lovely experience can be to visit a flower farm, particularly in the summer holiday months.
There are many options in and around Melbourne. If you live in other areas, it can be as easy as searching “flower farms” near your town to find options.
From Werribee Mansion to Blue Lotus Water Garden, there are delightful options to take your loved one with dementia out to enjoy the blooms. If they are able to, encourage walking around the grounds, s exercise can also help with overall health and mood.
Simple, safe and slow
When planning a gift and activity, try to break it down into simple manageable steps.
An uncluttered workstation, with few distractions and no glaring lights, can set the scene for a safe, fun time.
Buying and creating a photo album can be a meaningful time of connecting and remembering for you and your loved one. A big photo album with space to write names, dates and relationships can help to trigger memories and happy times.
Additionally, planning a session of scrapbooking can be a way to provide an option to connect, stimulate and reminisce. Buying items from your local craft store, setting out the items in plastic containers and joining in on the activity can be a way of providing not only an experience but a handmade item that can be a point of pride and satisfaction, positioned prominently in their home.
Puzzles can also be an engaging gift that helps with mental stimulation, while allowing the puzzle to be completed at their own pace and approach. It’s helpful to choose a subject that is close to your loved one’s heart. Whether that be a beach scene, a photo of one of their favourite animals, or even a treasured family photo that has been made into the puzzle.
An adult colouring book can also be a gift that can entertain for hours and provide focus and creativity. Partnered with a new gift of greatest hits from a favourite musician can mean safe auditory and visual stimulation.
Conversation cards are an option to help guide other family members and loved ones in engaging and supporting your loved one with dementia. The cards can help facilitate walking down memory lane in a tender and kind way.
While behaviour, abilities and personality can alter with the progress of dementia, many interests remain. Positioning a gift to encourage and allow an emotional outlet can be deeply satisfying and help recall earlier times, facilitating a grounding and comforting experience.
If reading skills have deteriorated, look to getting an audiobook version of their favourite novel. From monthly subscriptions to single downloads, there are many options to suit varying needs, as well as the opportunity to customise playback speed, volume and other settings.
Weighted blankets have been found to help with agitation, insomnia and distress. A weighted blanket may be a practical and cosy gift to help your loved one to remain calm, warm and settled on rainy and colder days.
Books of photography
The visual splendour of the world has little to rival it. Getting a book of photography showcasing a particular interest your loved one shares –such as stunning landscapes, underwater ecosystems or far-flung destinations – will likely bring back memories of treasured trips and experiences.
This holiday season has many opportunities for experiences and memories to be made that cater to and encourage those with dementia to feel happiness, relaxation and engagement.
If a gift or experience doesn’t go well the first time, be encouraged to try again or adjust. Mistakes happen, it’s important that neither you nor the person living with dementia feel like a failure.
Facilitating a sense of purpose, pleasure and relaxation through engaging in thoughtful activities and gifts will always be a positive goal.
Using experiences and gifts that facilitate mental and physical stimulation has proven evidence as an approach to better overall health and wellbeing for your loved one with dementia.
Be inspired to try an activity or gift that can lead to precious moments of connectedness, dignity and fullness that all deserve.