Finding the perfect gift for your loved ones who are living with dementia can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Christmas is a time for giving and most importantly a time to spend with family. But seeing as we don’t always have the luxury of being able to spend as much time with our loved ones as we would like; there are many gifts that we can give to ensure our loved ones continue to feel our presence and feel loved year round. These gifts don't always have to be expensive or fancy, but instead can come from the heart.
In the last few years of their lives, my grandparents, Bert and Bob Neal lived in their last home, Loch Lomond Villa, in Saint John, New Brunswick. My family and I in turn lived in Fredericton New Brunswick; although only being an hours drive away, not being able to be with them on a daily basis was something we all struggled with. If there was one thing my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis taught us, it was the importance of cherished time spent together and the memories we all shared. Although he had difficulty recalling these memories, he was still able to feel the love and joy that visitors and photos brought him. The most meaningful gifts we ever gave them were the gifts of memories, we did this in several different ways that anyone could do.
One gift that we found greatly beneficial for my grandparents while they lived at the Villa was a large photo album that they kept in their room. It may sound simple, but it was something we could give them to feel our presence when we couldn't physically be there. We filled the photo album with photos of people they loved, houses they’ve lived in, pets, drawings, their hobbies, trips etc. The key was to have every photo labeled, and with a short description. This brought great comfort to them and was something they could look through together in their shared room, but was also a conversational tool for people coming in to see them. Working in long term care, something that I hear a lot is that people struggle with what to do while they visit or what to talk about; an album like this can spark these conversations, be used as a calming tool and most importantly help the viewer to see past the diagnosis and see the person inside. This is also something that can help in caregivers' person centred care practice, helping them to get to know the person they are caring for, their connections and memories that make up their life.
You can include more than just photos within your album, such as grandchildren’s drawings, old recipes, a family tree or notes left by loved ones and visitors. We left empty ‘slots’ in the album to put cards and notes from visitors so that we could see at a later date, but my grandparents could re-live as well. This not only kept everything organized, but was also something we could read to my grandparents when we visited. Although they may not always remember the people who are sending the cards, knowing that you are being thought about is a great feeling for everyone, and in this case was something my grandmother held dear to her heart.
Another gift we gave them every year was a personalized calendar we had made at a local photo shop. We filled the calendar with photos of our family, with labels again and included important events such as birthdays and anniversaries. This is a personalized touch you can give to your loved one living with dementia that truly will bring them joy year round, and is simple and inexpensive to put together. It is also a great way to make their room feel like home if they are living in a long term care setting.
A final gift idea is to give a guest book to your loved one! Whether they are living in the community or at home, this is a great idea to have for when people come to visit. They can leave a short note, their memories of the day and can see who else has been in to visit. All these gifts not only act as a meaningful activity for your loved one to do and look at, but also are beneficial for them day-to-day in their interactions with visitors and staff, they help keep conversations flowing and memories vibrant and alive!
There are many ways to make the most of Christmas giving for your loved ones living with dementia, a few I have highlighted in this post. But above all, giving them the gift of cherished time spent together is the best gift anyone could give or receive this Christmas!