I suck at selecting and giving gifts. My family members and friends are probably rolling their eyes as I tackle the topic of best gifts for dementia caregivers. Other organizations have general information about selecting appropriate gifts for persons with dementia. Alzheimers.net, for example, has a terrific one. They recommend tailoring the gift according to the abilities of the person with dementia while keeping in mind his or her pre-disease personality and preferences. This is a terrific idea. But I’m going to go a little deeper and also offer ideas for the caregiver.
Consistent and Serious Gifts of Time
When my children were little, they would give me coupon books for “redeemable services:” “Good for washing dinner dishes” or “Good for being nice to my sibling for 1 hour.” I still have those coupon books saved in my cedar chest. Honestly, I would welcome these types of coupon books NOW from my adult children: “Good for an entire Saturday of cleaning gutters;” “Good for assistance with moving furniture;” “Good for 2 weeks of house and cat-sitting while you attend your conference in Amsterdam in May.” I am completely serious. I would rather have these legit offers of help instead of another bottle of perfume or a Starbucks gift card.
People caring for individuals with dementia definitely can use assistance with yard work and household chores. They would also love to know that someone is willing to commit to a 4-hour block every third Tuesday so that they can plan doctor and dentist appointments. Caregivers often fail to take care of themselves because dementia care giving is a 24/7 job. Your home-made coupon book or set of personalized gift cards would be invaluable, so don’t feel silly doing this! If you are not computer-savvy enough to print out gift cards, you can use the larger gift tags or even holiday-themed index cards!
Starting in mid-January, you call the care giver every month and ask which coupon or personalized gift card the care giver would like to “redeem.” Why? Two reasons. The first is that caregiving is a 24/7 activity and your thoughtful gift may get lost in the flurry of care giving activities. The second is that care givers tend to delay asking for help for a variety of reasons; your assertiveness gives them permission to accept your sincere offer of help and support!
If you want to commit to regular or respite visits and you feel weird giving someone a home-made coupon book, I have another (but pricier) option…
Monthly Foods and Fruits
Some companies allow you to purchase a gift subscription, where the recipient receives cookies, fruits, coffee, and even wine on a monthly basis for a 3- to 12-month duration. Those gifts are really neat and are appreciated. Here is how you can combine the coupon-book idea with a physical gift: arrange a monthly event that coincides with the delivery of the product! Perhaps the monthly event is respite-driven, where one person takes the caregiver out to a movie while the second person visits with the person living with dementia. Or the monthly event is an intimate social affair, where you bring some cheese and crackers to accompany the wine. When you personalize the gift message at the time you are ordering the subscription, announce your plans: “Every month, the coffee and I will arrive to savor some time with you and Edna.” This idea is similar to the coupon idea earlier in the blog but is tied to a physical gift.
A massage is wonderful! I love getting gift cards to a swanky salon. But if I’m a caregiver, when am I ever going to use this thoughtful gift? It is not enough to give the gift of a personal service; it is best followed with a concrete plan to provide respite so that the caregiver can enjoy the time away.
Here is what I see time after time: the caregiver receives a lovely certificate for a day at the spa or for a deluxe massage. The gift giver then says, “Let me know when you want to use it and I’ll stay with [insert person living with dementia’s name].” The conversation ends there. The gift giver is sincere, and will truly make good on his or her promise to stay with the person with dementia while the caregiver gets out and enjoys the massage. However, the caregiver becomes quickly engaged with the day-to-day care giving activities and the massage certificate is forgotten. I would strongly recommend that the gift giver call the care giver in mid-January and say, “I’m looking at my schedule. When were you thinking of getting the massage, so that I can stay with John?” This follow-through also provides permission for the caregiver to enjoy the gift; caregivers often struggle with guilt even when they know they need the break.
If there are multiple siblings or adult children, you may consider chipping in for a big ticket service item like a cleaning service or lawn care service. These types of services also help people better age in place.
Any other ideas? Let me know!!
Dr. Rita Jablonski
Rita Jablonski, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FGSA is a nurse practitioner, researcher, tenured professor, and former family caregiver. Her research and practice involve all aspects of dementia management; she is best known for non-drug strategies to address dementia-related behaviors.