Gifts for Those With Alzheimer's or Dementia

Looking for that perfect gift for someone who's living with Alzheimer's disease or another kind of dementia? Whether your family member or friend is in the early, middle, or late stages of dementia, we've got gift ideas to match their needs and abilities.

Gift Ideas for Loved Ones with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Verywell / Joules Garcia

Gifts for Mild or Early Stage Alzheimer's or Dementia

Box of cards with pre-stamped envelopes: Writing notes to family and friends can be an enjoyable activity for some people in the early stages of dementia. You can help them keep this activity up by providing several blank cards and pre-stamped envelopes.

Family photo calendar: Make an annual calendar with birthdays, anniversaries and other special days identified. You can add pictures to each month as well—along with each person's special day.

Several online programs and stores offer services that can help you create a personalized calendar. Before you begin, you can start by collecting digital family photos that you can import into the calendar.

Clock with time, day and date: A clock that includes the time, date, and day of the week can be a wonderful gift for someone who struggles with orientation in dementia.

Photo phone: A photo phone is a large telephone that allows you to program several phone numbers of important people into the phone, along with a photo for each person. You can also do this with other phones if you use a special application that achieves the same effect.

Your loved one simply has to push the button that shows the picture of the person with whom they want to speak, and the number is automatically dialed. This can be helpful if memory impairments make it difficult to remember or locate important phone numbers.

Personalized video: Make a video recording of a few family members or close friends greeting your loved one. This is especially meaningful for individuals who live far away or who live in a facility. Be sure that each person identifies themselves with their name. For example, you could say, "Hi, Aunt Mae! It's Susie Brown, your niece. I thought of you today and remembered when we used to go apple picking together. I love you and hope you're having a great day!"

Photo album: Put together a photo album with pictures of family and friends. Make sure you label the pictures with the name and relationship of the person, such as "Joe Friday, Nephew" or "Sarah Smith, daughter." You can also include short descriptions or captions.

Digital photo frame: This is the same idea as the photo album but in digital form. You can load up meaningful pictures into a memory stick and set the frame to automatically scroll through these photos.

Allow them to be the gift-giver: Spend time with your family member or friend and help them choose and purchase a few online gifts for their loved ones. Many people who are living with dementia may have difficulty getting to the store and might not be able to navigate online purchasing independently, but they may love the chance to select and buy gifts online for others.

Thank-you letter: Take the time to write a letter to your loved one, thanking them for specific things they've taught you and listing a few special memories they have given you. While this gift can't be bought in the store, it could be one of their favorites.

Housecleaning or handyman services: Give a gift certificate for housecleaning or handyman services around their home. This could be your own services if you're able to provide them or you can arrange it through a trustworthy company in your community. You can help make the process successful by assisting your loved one in making a list of duties that need to be completed by the service provider.

Gift card for meals: A gift card to a favorite restaurant or company that delivers ready-to-eat food can be a great present if meal-preparation or nutrition is a challenge.

Adult coloring book: An adult coloring book can provide relaxation and mental stimulation. Be sure that you choose a book designed for adults to color, rather than a child coloring book. Treating the person who has Alzheimer's or dementia the way you would treat a child—either through your language ("honey," "sweetie") or the gifts you choose—can quickly increase their frustration and be very disheartening for them.

Favorite sports team memorabilia: Whether it's baseball cards, a highlight video of Michael Jordan's greatest dunks or a book about the most amazing golf shots, sports memorabilia can be a very meaningful gift for those with (or without) dementia.

Brain games: Some people who have early-stage dementia may enjoy keeping their brain active by doing crossword puzzles, word-finding activities, jigsaw puzzles, or other brain games that stretch their minds.

Medication dispenser: Meet the new and improved pillbox: the medication dispenser. If you're concerned about medication dosing and timing, this may be a great fit for your loved one.

Medication dispensers come with several different options, including the ability to verbally instruct a person to take their medication and automatically dispense the correct medication at the appropriate time. You can even program some dispensers to contact a family member or friend if the medication is not taken out of the machine at the correct time.

Transfer old family movies, slides or pictures onto digital recordings: Does your grandfather have boxes of old slides or pictures sitting around? You can record them digitally to preserve them and make it easy for him to enjoy viewing. If you're not tech-savvy, there are companies that will do this for a fee.

Old TV shows: Purchase recordings of favorite television shows or movies from the past. Most people enjoy watching shows that are familiar to them. Don't choose shows that are anxiety-producing or too intense; rather, pick ones that portray some humor and good times. For the sports buff, choose funny sports bloopers or season highlights.

Favorite music: Many people with Alzheimer's or other dementia enjoy music. A compilation of their favorites could make their day. You could purchase a traditional recording or load their favorite music onto an iPod. Music is a beneficial gift regardless of which stage of dementia the person is experiencing.

Familiar books: In the same way that music from the past might bring comfort and joy to those with Alzheimer's, so might a familiar book. Try a classic book they might have read several times or a magazine that's about their profession. For example, a former nurse might enjoy paging through a magazine about the medical world. A retired mechanic might love looking at classic cars and engines.

Transportation gift certificates: If he's or she no longer driving but still enjoys going out, give the gift of independence through a transportation voucher. 

Gifts for Middle or Late-Stage Alzheimer's or Dementia

Perhaps your loved one is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer’s. If you’re wondering what kind of holiday or another special gift might be beneficial to them, consider these:

GPS tracking system: Does your loved one become disoriented easily or wander? If you want to invest in something that could help locate your loved one if he or she gets lost, consider a GPS tracking system. 

There are several options available, with varying costs. Most have an initial charge for the equipment and set-up and then an ongoing monthly fee for the service. You can set up a system to alert you if he or she leaves a pre-determined boundary area, as well as provide continual monitoring that you can access from your phone or computer screen.

Medical identification bracelet: An attractive medical identification bracelet can provide a little peace of mind for you and your loved one. Bracelets often have the option of listing the individual's name, medical conditions, contact information and more. As with the GPS tracking system, you may want to consider purchasing a bracelet if your loved one tends to wander or become restless.

Handyman lockbox: Some people have always enjoyed working with their hands. They might enjoy a wooden box that has several opening and closing latches, as well as locking options, on each side of the box. This gift can offer the comfort and familiarity of wood and metal in their hands along with tasks to perform. Some people with dementia develop agitation and restlessness, and having something to do with their hands can be comforting.

Costume jewelry: Costume jewelry may be the perfect gift for your loved one who enjoys fashion and color. If there are beads in the jewelry, be sure they are securely attached so they don't present a choking hazard.

Scented lotion: Some people respond well to scented hand or body lotion. Certain scents may help them feel relaxed or evoke happy memories and feelings. Sometimes the sense of smell or the ability to identify certain smells may be decreased in Alzheimer's disease, but they may still enjoy the feeling of moisturizing lotion. 

Certified massage therapist appointment: Consider hiring someone to come in and provide a gentle, professional massage. If your loved one is an older adult, ensure that the therapist has experience working with this population. Massage has been shown to be useful for pain control and anxiety, so you may want to consider providing one for your loved one if you can.

However, it's important to know your loved one’s feelings about massage. If, for example, they’re unable to get up and move about on their own, would they even appreciate a massage? Do they like touch or would that make them uncomfortable?

Activity board or apron: You can purchase an activity board or apron for those who enjoy keeping their hands busy. Boards with locks can open and close—others with zippers and buttons and others with smaller plastic pipes fit together. An activity board that fits his or her past interests can provide your loved one with familiar, meaningful activities.

Visitors journal: Purchase an attractive journal for your loved one. Visitors can write a little note about their visit, as well as the date and time they visited. This can help remind the person that you were there, and it keeps track of visitors for your information.

People who are living with dementia may feel that no one visits them, but a journal can help balance that feeling with real evidence of those visits. In the later stages, this journal also serves as a communication device from one visitor to the next, allowing them to share with each other how their loved one is doing and something interesting about their visit.

Remember that even if the person living with dementia forgets that you were there to visit, the positive feelings that your visit evokes likely last well beyond the memory of it.

Doll or stuffed animal: For your aunt who always had a pet cat or your grandmother who adored babies, choose a cuddly stuffed animal or a baby doll. The feel of the fur in her hands might comfort her, and the weight of the baby doll could be a familiar feeling that may provide her with a sense of that motherhood role.

Comfy clothes: Purchase a couple of items of clothing that are comfortable and easy to put on or change. And remember, in your quest for comfort, don’t neglect to consider the style or color that your loved one prefers. Give him the dignity of wearing something that he would choose if he could, as well as something that is easy for you or other caregivers to help put on or take off.

Slippers:  Your loved one might be spending a lot of time at home or in a nursing home, so a nice pair of slippers can be a thoughtful gift. Make sure that the slippers have good grips on the bottom for traction if your loved one will be walking around in them.

Blankets or lap robes: If your mother is in a wheelchair most of the time, you may want to get a lap robe for her. A lap robe is a comfortable piece of material that wraps around the legs.

While you could use a standard size blanket, the lap robe usually comes in the right size and shape so that it doesn’t drag on the floor or get caught in the wheels of the chair. Lap robes are available online or you may be able to provide someone with a lap robe knitted with love.

Manicure: For the woman who always enjoyed having her nails done, consider hiring someone to give her a manicure, or do it yourself if you’re able. In the later stages of dementia, she will likely not be able to express her feelings, and it may seem like she’s unaware of what’s happening. However, she might like seeing her own nails look nice. A manicure provides the benefit of human touch and hand massage. That gentle touch communicates to her that she is cared for and loved.

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Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.