ENHANCING LIFE FOR THE OLDER ADULT WITH ALZHEIMER'S
DISEASE OR OTHER DEMENTIAS: SOME GIFT IDEAS
by Stephanie Zeman RN MSN
Sadly, the incidence of Alzheimer's Disease and other related dementias
increases with age. While a small number of cases occur before age 65, the
incidence increases with age. At 85 and above, 48% of us will be be
affected by Alzheimer's Disease or a related dementia.
Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias all progress in a similar manner,
although some cause more rapid decline than others. For the sake of
simplicity, the dementias will be referred to AD..
The symptoms of AD are, for the most part, similar in everyone. The
affected person loses his memory starting with recent memory and moving
gradually back in time. Early in the disease, people with AD will also lose
cognitive ability ( the ability to figure out a checkbook, or how to take a
bus from point to point, and being aware of their own safety needs). The
loss of memory and cognitive skills as well as development of confusion
continues over the course of the illness which can last up to 15 years or more..
Most people with AD are fairly mobile and able to participate in some kind
of activity for at least a few years. Gifts which promote activities have
the potential to improve the person's quality of life, provided that are
carefully selected to match the functional level of the person with AD..
The following suggestion have been divided into gifts for early stage
dementia, the moderately impaired, and the severely impaired. These are
only a handful of ideas from which to choose..
Early Alzheimer's and Related Dementia
Most individuals at this stage are: able to communicate fairly well, quite
active and need to be engaged in some activity 60% of the day. They are
aware of their condition and struggle to remain independent. Gifts that
enhance independence or encourage activity are excellent choices..
Games: Simple, but familiar games, such as dominos, large numbered cards, an
invitation to a Bingo game( be prepared to watch over you guest's card). Low
priced items, but they have potential for quite a bit of enjoyment.
Tickets to a concert, musical, circus. Ball games can also be excellent
choices. Any event without a plot to follow is a good choice. For safety
either take the person or send along a companion
Taxi charge account for transportation to visit friends ( coordinate plans
on both sides of the trip). This gives the person a sense of freedom and
independence when they can no longer drive.
- old family photographs highlighting the major
events in the person's life. Useful and enjoyable throughout the course of
Fruit basket or flowers are always a welcome gift.
For the Moderately Impaired
Persons with moderate stage AD will have some difficulty communicating, will
need help dressing, and be unable to manage most daily activities without
supervision or help. Wandering is often seen in this group. Exercise is
important but attention spans varies so activities are best limited to
Simple to manage clothing. Tube socks are easy to put on correctly. Shoes
are available with Velcro closures since shoelaces can be a problem.
Jumpsuits with back closures for those with incontinence problems are very
Materials to sort. Sorting is an activity that most people with AD can
enjoy. Try pennies and penny folders, a bag of buttons, or large beads.
Music. Especially the old songs often can bring back wonderful memories.
Try to locate stores that have remakes of old albums. Also religious music
or music of their country of birth can bring great pleasure.
Tape Church or religious services. Many people with dementia can no longer
attend religious services. This can bring a great source of comfort.
Short car trips. See Christmas lights, flowers, seasonal changes.
The Severely Impaired
At this level the person has almost no understanding of the spoken word and
is unable to speak coherently. Attention span is very short. In this stage
of the disease people do not have the capacity to deal with anything but the
simplest of tasks. Often times their long term memory takes them into the
back and they may believe they are living in the home or community of their
Photo albums, family pictures, memory books. A gather of pictures from the
persons past can help if any memory is still intact.
Pet visits. Most people with late dementia still enjoy the visits of dogs,
cats, and other small animal.
Recordings of old music
Cuddle animals or even a lifelike cuddly baby doll.
Video tapes with pleasant sights such as garden, fish tanks and sounds can
Hand/body lotions Most people with late stage Ad still derive comfort from
touch. Try giving a hand or body massage. ( Do not massage legs, as blood
clots can form in this population.
These are just a few ideas that may bring pleasure to those with AD during
the holidays and on special occasions. .
Some catalogues which can supply some of the articles mentioned are:
M and M Health Care Apparel 1-800-221-8929
Mature Mart 1-800-720-6278 .
Stephanie Zeman has a Masters in Nursing, specializing
in long term care and gerontology in since 1961. She has developed Geriatric
Education Resources in 1987 to provide educational workshops consultations
and support for family caregivers. This article is an excerpt from her book:
Gift Givers Guide. For more information about this guide she can be reached
at Geriatric Resources PO Box 7144 Fairfax Station 22039-7144