26 Helpful Gifts for People with Dementia
Want to get your loved one a present, but not sure where to start? Consider these expert-approved suggestions for gifts that promote interaction, enjoyment, and cognitive stimulation for older adults in different stages of dementia.
When Corrigan Duffy started shopping for a gift for his uncle who has dementia, he wanted something his uncle would enjoy using, but it also had to be appropriate for his abilities. Duffy considered a variety of things, including a soft blanket, jigsaw puzzles, and a digital frame with preloaded photos.
The gifts his uncle liked most were those that promoted interaction, like conversation cards. These cards, which were part of Duffy’s purchase, have questions designed to spark discussion, such as, “What do you think is the best thing you learned from your parents?” and “What’s your favorite song?”
“The cards helped my uncle have longer conversations with his family and professional caregivers without the pressure of trying to think of something to say,” Duffy explains. “They also provided cognitive stimulation and helped him recall specific memories and share stories. That made him feel more connected to others,” he says. “All of these things, I’ve learned, are crucial for people living with dementia.”
This kind of reaction is exactly what you hope for when you give a gift to a loved one with dementia, says Tyler MacEachran, Executive Director and Vice President of Development of the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Caregivers Network. “You want gifts that are enjoyable for the person, appropriate for their abilities, provide social interaction, and also give the caregiver a bit of a respite in terms of thinking of activities for their loved one to do,” he says.
Checking all those boxes can be a challenge. To help make it easier, here are expert gifting guidelines, plus gift ideas for loved ones in the early, middle, and late stages of dementia.
3 Guidelines for Choosing a Gift for Your Loved One
1. Be Considerate and Respectful
Look for gifts that are designed for adults. “While some people living with dementia will very much enjoy things developed for younger age groups, others might be embarrassed or offended if they consider a gift to be geared to children,” says Shadi Gholizadeh, PhD, MPH, TheKey’s Director of Memory Care. Carefully consider the personality of the person and their possible reaction to each gift.
Also, think about where your loved one is right now in their diagnosis or stage of dementia. “For example, it’s probably not a wise idea to give a Life Alert bracelet to someone who just received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, no matter how good your intentions,” MacEachran says. “Your loved one just got a life-changing diagnosis and this is not the time to remind them of what may be ahead.”
2. Draw on Lifelong Passions and Interests
Dementia may change how someone navigates the world, but prior passions and interests may still be sources of joy.
“It’s important to meet the person where they are and consider the hobbies, likes, and dislikes they had prior to the onset of dementia,” says Dr. Gholizadeh. “From there, some adaptations can be made. Someone who loves horses may enjoy a horse-themed puzzle. A person who loves painting but now struggles with fine motor skills may enjoy water-based painting kits, which are easier to use than oil-based paints.”
Dr. Gholizadeh suggests checking out Relish, a company that creates and sells gifts, such as water-based painting kits, for people living with dementia. Their online store also offers puzzles along with many other gift items your loved one might enjoy.
Before you shop, it’s a good idea to talk to your loved one’s family or professional caregiver, MacEachran says. That’s important because what was once a beloved pastime may now be a challenge. “Maybe your aunt used to love doing crossword puzzles, but they have become a source of frustration and anger,” he says. “By checking in with the caregiver, you’ll have a clearer idea of gifts that will be well received.”
3. Focus on Engagement
Almost everyone appreciates treats like chocolates or a soft blanket. But you should also think about gifts that prompt interaction, MacEachran advises.
Besides giving your loved one an activity, interactive gifts also have therapeutic value. According to research, sensory stimulation can help activate memory and improve cognition for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Look for presents that offer a visual and tactile experience, like a texture-matching game.
Another study found that music therapy improved cognitive function in people living with dementia, especially when it involved listening and singing. Music therapy also had a positive long-term effect on depressive symptoms associated with the condition. A collection of your loved one’s favorite songs they can hum or sing along with could be a great gift. The Simple Music Player, for example, is designed for people with dementia and can be preloaded with music.
“My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease, and long after her memories of people were gone, she was still humming her favorite church hymns,” MacEachran says.
Gift Ideas for Each Stage of Dementia
Presents don’t have to be specifically designed to stimulate cognition to be useful—they can also help minimize disruption to a daily schedule, streamline care, or promote safety and enjoyment, Dr. Gholizadeh says. “There are so many factors that can impact how engaging a person may find a gift, including their mood that day or environmental factors like the lighting in the room or background noise,” she points out. “I wouldn’t put too much pressure on any one gift and instead consider offering a few smaller options that fall into different categories so the gift recipient can choose what they’d like to use.”
Here are some gift ideas recommended by experts for each stage of dementia.
When cognitive impairment is mild, gifts for your loved one don’t need to differ too much from what you’ve given them in the past, MacEachran says. He suggests presents that help collect treasured memories, including:
Digital photo frames: Photos can be particularly precious as dementia progresses, and selecting meaningful ones in the early stages of the condition can help start conversations and reinforce positive memories. Ask family members and friends to contribute photos as well. Not only can this prompt more memories, but it can also help someone with dementia feel connected to others. There’s a wide variety of digital photo frames available. One you might consider is the PhotoShare WiFi Digital Picture Frame, which lets you upload photos and videos directly from your phone. It’s a great way for the entire family, including grandchildren, to connect with an older adult.
Music player or smart speaker: Collecting music the person enjoys is especially important in early-stage dementia because musical memories are often preserved, even in later stages. Music can also provide emotional and behavioral benefits, such as relieving stress, anxiety, and agitation. Consider an MP3 player like the HiFi Walker H2 with its easy-to-use controls. You can load it with playlists that appeal to your loved one. Another option: a smart speaker that will allow your loved one to create playlists through voice command (or you can do it for them). For instance, the Amazon Echo Dot plays music on request, and also gives the news and weather reports.
Gift suggestions from your loved one: Asking an older adult what they’d like is often helpful, Dr. Gholizadeh says. She advises saying, “I would love to bring you something you would enjoy and I’m not quite sure what that would be. Would you prefer some art supplies or puzzles?”
At this stage, when your loved one’s cognitive impairment is mild, you can get feedback on the hobbies, interests, and passions they have right now. For instance, if they have a green thumb, a Click and Grow indoor herb garden kit lets them plant herbs and watch them grow. Plus, they can later enjoy incorporating the herbs in their meals. If they play—or used to play—an instrument, they might get a kick out of Musical Dominoes.
As dementia progresses and symptoms become more pronounced, it is time to start thinking about gifts that focus on safety and make it easier for your loved one to navigate their living space, MacEachran says. “Think of assistive devices that will allow them to continue enjoying their passions while also staying safe,” he advises. Here are some ideas:
Talking alarm clock with audio reminders for taking medication: The Hearmore Talking Alarm Clock Medication Reminder features a large-type backlit display and up to four daily alarms you can set for your loved one.
Easy-to-see-and-read clock: This is important for helping to orient the recipient in time by displaying the time, date, and day of the week. The 19 Alarms Dementia Clock has large bold letters and numbers that are easy to read, plus customized messaging reminders. The clock’s brightness can be adjusted.
Motion-detecting night-lights and glow-in-the-dark tape for hallways: There are many motion-detecting lights on the market. Consider options like the GE Motion Activated White LED Night Light, which emits a very bright light, making it easier for your loved one to see, and it is long-lasting with no bulbs to replace.
Kitchen appliances with shutoff timers: Many small appliances now come with this safety feature. For instance, if your loved one enjoys a cup of tea, the Hamilton Beach 1L Electric Kettle could be a useful gift. It has an automatic shutoff and an illuminated on/off switch for easy use.
Medical ID jewelry: These can be engraved with your loved one’s name, condition, and whom to contact in case of an emergency. MedicAlert offers bracelets, necklaces, and wallet ID cards with a QR code that, once scanned with a smartphone camera, can relay your older adult’s medical information to first responders or those trying to help them.
An Apple Watch might be another appropriate gift for some older adults. It’s equipped with emergency calling as well as fall detection to alert family members if their loved one falls. The fall-detection feature is automatically activated for anyone 55 or over if you enter your age when setting up the watch or create a profile in the Apple Health app. However, the Apple Watch might not be right for everyone. The screen is small, it can be difficult to navigate, and it needs to be charged regularly. Your loved one would also need to know how to activate the emergency-calling function.
GPS tracker devices that share your loved one’s location at any time: Consider the Jiobit Location Monitor, which can send alerts to you and other caregivers if your older adult changes location (you choose the locations to be monitored). It also has a live tracking feature so that you can check on your older adult as needed to make sure they are safe.
Memory books: Digital frames might be less helpful as dementia advances since they typically don’t offer a way to identify each photograph. That’s why a memory book can be a great gift, says Kim Smith, a speech-language pathologist whose clinical experience focuses on the elderly, including people with dementia. Similar to a scrapbook, these books contain identifying information and memory prompts. Consider one like Storyworth.
When you’re creating a memory book for your loved one, you might include a photo of a cat they cherished—and write the cat’s name, where your loved one lived when they had the cat and funny things the cat did that spark happiness (like “Cinnamon loved to wake me up by pawing at my nose”). Even photos of favorite foods with sentences describing their significance (“the cookies my grandmother taught me to make and I taught my granddaughter to make”) can be helpful, enjoyable, and be used to spark storytelling without any pressure on your loved one to remember and reminisce.
“These books help preserve the dignity and maximize the independence of those struggling with cognitive decline,” Smith says. “Loved ones with dementia can use the book as a cue or guide for storytelling.”
You might also consider the Creative Care Imagination Kit by Anne Basting to help prompt storytelling and foster conversation with your loved one in a low-pressure way, suggests Dr. Gholizadeh. The activities are based on Basting’s 25 years of research and pioneering approach to memory care.
Adaptive clothing: Getting dressed and undressed may be more challenging for your loved one now, says Rick Lauber, author of The Successful Caregiver’s Guide. Adaptive clothing makes the process easier and can be a helpful gift at this stage, he says. For example, a zippered sweater will be much easier for your older adult to put on than one with buttons or a pullover as will pants with Velcro or an elastic waistband. There are numerous clothing options from brands like Silverts or Joe & Bella.
Monthly activities box: There is a remarkable range of monthly boxes you can choose from that feature items related to specific hobbies, interests, and self-care. For loved ones living with dementia, Lauber suggests the Connectivities Activity box, which contains different activities developed by memory care experts, such as games and art projects, and easy exercises developed by an occupational therapist. Each activity is designed to promote cognitive, motor, social, and sensory skills for people with dementia. Your loved one can do the activities with a family member and/or caregiver, Lauber says.
Gift giving can be more challenging as dementia becomes advanced. However, there are very meaningful presents that can help your loved one with sensory stimulation and mobility. These include:
Robot pet: Consider giving your loved one a furry friend that doesn’t require feeding or walking. Pet therapy has been shown to provide comfort, interaction, and quality of life for people living with dementia. And robotic cats and dogs have similar positive benefits: One study found that people living with dementia who interacted with robotic pets showed decreased stress and anxiety. One to consider: Playmate Pets, designed for people with memory loss.
Fidget toys: These can help give your loved one a way to release energy while promoting hand dexterity. For example, the Playable ART Ball has spheres that can be scrunched, turned, twisted, and arranged in all kinds of configurations.
Fidget blanket: Sensory objects that invite soothing touch can help promote a sense of calm, especially among people living with dementia who start to crave repetitive movements. A blanket designed for fidgeting, a type of therapeutic quilt that has items attached or sewn on, such as the GeriGuard fidget quilt, can be calming for your loved one.
Weighted blanket: Research suggests weighted blankets can help alleviate anxiety and insomnia. If your loved one experiences either of those conditions, consider a gift like the Sensory Weighted Blanket.
Adult coloring books: If your loved one enjoys creating art, consider a coloring book specially designed for people living with dementia, like Relish’s Everyday Joys book.
Swivel car cushions: For many older adults, dementia means more isolation, MacEachran says. Gifts that make it easier for your loved one to go on outings, like swivel cushions that can help them get into and out of a car more easily, can be very useful. One option is the Stander Auto Swivel Cushion Seat.
Quality time together: Frequent visits are one of the very best gifts you can give your loved one. Do things together: Go to lunch, take a walk in the park, or attend a concert. Lauber will always treasure the time he took his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, to a Christmas concert of Handel’s Messiah, which was one of his dad’s favorites. “His big smile during the performance was proof that he thoroughly enjoyed the show—and it made a welcome Christmas present for me, too,” Lauber says.
If your loved one has mobility issues, you could watch a movie together or sit outdoors somewhere on a beautiful day to enjoy nature. Time together is a gift—and it’s one that both of you will cherish.
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