The Best Holiday Gifts for Seniors with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Sophie Bebeau

Written by Sophie Bebeau on Fri Nov 11 2022.

The holiday season can offer equal joy and stress, especially when finding the perfect gifts for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. As the condition progresses, you must get more creative with gift-giving to find something they will use and enjoy.

The holiday season can offer equal joy and stress, especially when finding the perfect gifts for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. As the condition progresses, you must get more creative with gift-giving to find something they will use and enjoy. Luckily, there's been a surge of dementia-specific items over the last few years, and social media has allowed caregivers to share recommendations.

Key things to look for when finding a gift for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia

Stage-appropriate gifts

Keep gifts within the range of the abilities of your loved one. For example, look for simpler card games like Go Fish instead of gifting someone in the moderate-to-late stage of dementia a brand-new card game to learn. Also, jumbo-sized cards are ideal for that stage of the condition.

Gifts related to hobbies, interests, or career

Engaging in hobbies, interests, and even past career activities can bring joy and purpose to people with Alzheimer's or dementia. For example, if your loved one was an avid gardener, consider a book with pictures of beautiful gardens from around the world. 

Gifts that give a sense of purpose of accomplishment

We all need to feel a sense of success or purpose in our lives once in a while. Consider failure-free gifts that give loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia a sense of accomplishment. 

Gifts for expressing creativity

Creative expression is one of the most rewarding human experiences. Those with Alzheimer's or dementia may find creative activities involving art especially enjoyable if they were drawn to those activities when they were younger. But, even if they weren't, creative endeavors offer a way to express themselves and relieve stress!

Gift Recommendations

To make it easier to read through our list of holiday gifts for people with Alzheimer's or dementia, we've broken it into 10 simple categories. Browse through all of them, or pick the ones that match your loved one's needs or interests!

Remember, stick to just one or two gifts this holiday season, as too many gifts or packages to unwrap can be overwhelming for those with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Technology Gifts

Technology is a wonderful way to help your loved one stay connected to their friends, family, and the world around them. It also can offer an increased sense of independence. 

1. Voice-activated assistant

A voice-activated assistant is a great gift for those with limited cognitive abilities or mobility challenges. A voice-activated assistant is a hands-free device that can make and take calls, send and read texts, play music and audiobooks, read the news, give the weather, answer questions, look up information, control smart home devices, and even tell you jokes! 

The most common voice-activated assistants on the market are the Amazon Echo and the Google Nest, which are the most user-friendly.

2. Voice-activated assistant display

Adding a display option to your voice-activated assistant is a great upgrade for someone who wants all the best of a digital assistant with a built-in visual element. With a display screen, your loved one can easily video chat with friends and family, watch movies and TV, and check things like the weather, news, and calendar reminders.

3. Senior-friendly cell phone

The market for senior-friendly cell phones has grown a lot in the last few years, and there are even models of cell phones designed specifically for those with Alzheimer's or dementia. Most senior-friendly phones feature simplified controls, large print buttons and text, one-touch dialing, and other features added with seniors in mind. 

Many also look exactly like a regular smartphone, so users don't have to feel self-conscious about using a different phone. Several Alzheimer's and dementia-friendly cell phones on the market are also ideal for caregivers. With built-in remote management features, caregivers can manage everything on the phone through their app.

4. Senior-friendly tablet

A senior-friendly tablet is an excellent way for seniors with Alzheimer's and dementia to have independent access to music and movies, video calls with friends and family, dementia-specific apps and games, and built-in caregiving features like medication reminders.

Senior-friendly tablets are simple and user-friendly, so caregivers don't need to step in often to troubleshoot for their loved ones. 

5. Smart frames

A smart frame displays images and pictures. It's a fun way to stay connected with your loved one and surprise them with new (and old) photos each week.

There are many smart frames on the market, ranging from one-purpose frames that simply show rotating images to more complex frames that can also make and receive video calls and set reminders.

Puzzles, activities, and games

1. Jigsaw puzzles

Puzzles are a common gift for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia because you can easily find one that fits the interests and skill level of your loved one. Many companies create jigsaw puzzles specifically for those with Alzheimer's and dementia.

Add a little extra sentiment to the gift by creating your own puzzle. You can have custom photo puzzles made through a photo printing service. Or you can do it at home by printing out family photos or other images your loved one might like, laminating the image, and cutting it into puzzle-like pieces for them to put back together. 

2. Jumbo playing cards

Many people spent time playing card games when they were young, so getting a deck of jumbo playing cards is a nice way to engage your loved one using cards that are easier to hold and see. Games like Go Fish and Crazy Eights are perfect for those in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's and dementia, and simple activities like shuffling and sorting by color or suit are best when in the later stages.

3. Bingo set

Bingo is one of the best games to provide fun for those with Alzheimer's and dementia. A study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias found that playing bingo helps Alzheimer's and dementia patients perform cognitive tasks better and increases alertness and awareness hours after playing. Don't worry about winning or losing. Simply call numbers until your loved one gets a bingo!

4. Dominoes set

Dominoes are another excellent game for people with dementia or Alzheimer's because they have a familiar design and are easy to hold and maneuver. Plus, you can play various games with dominoes that can be fun for an individual at any stage. Remember to emphasize playing the game, not scoring, winning, or losing, so the game feels productive and successful for your loved one

Check out this Wikipedia page for a list of games that can be played with dominoes. Mexican Train is a favorite among caregivers.

5. Alzheimer's and dementia-specific activity books

If your loved one likes to keep busy with different activities, try activity books created specifically with Alzheimer's and dementia in mind. These activity books feature a wide variety of fun things to keep the mind busy, like full-color photos and images, conversation starters, sensory stimulation, puzzles, stories, and more. 

Art

Expressing ourselves through creative pursuits and connecting with art and music are known to promote brain health, reduce stress, and create a happier mind. Music and art often trigger happy memories in patients with Alzheimer's or dementia, facilitate conversation and better communication, and build confidence.

Safety note: When choosing a gift, always make sure they are skill-appropriate. Don't introduce sharp objects like scissors unless you know they can be handled safely. Choose projects that align with their behaviors. You know your loved one best!

1. Coloring books

Adult coloring books are all the rage for adults of all ages and all cognitive abilities, and it's not hard to see why. Coloring helps us think creatively and calms our minds and bodies. For someone with Alzheimer's or dementia, try simple coloring books with easy, bold images or coloring books created with Alzheimer's and dementia in mind. Add a set of large, colorful markers, and let the creativity flow!

2. Watercolor paint sets

Watercolors are easy to set up and clean, making them an excellent gift for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. Give your loved one a set of watercolors, a few different sizes of paintbrushes, and some jumbo-sized watercolor paper for a fun afternoon of creativity. Join in the paint session with them and enjoy some of the benefits of expressing yourself creatively!

3. Aqua paints

Aqua paints, or water paints, are a simplified way to paint for loved ones in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer's or dementia. Aqua paint sets come with pages or canvases with printed images that only appear once they are "painted" with a brush dipped in water. After each use, the paper dries, and the image fades, ready to be repainted!

4. Ultra-light modeling clay

If your loved one likes working with their hands, try ultra-light modeling clay. Ultra-light clay is, as you probably guessed, ultra-light, making it easy to mold and play with, even for someone with limited strength or mobility in their hands. This soft, airy clay also doesn't need to bake in an oven like traditional modeling clay and will air dry in 24 hours.

5. Arts & crafts kits

With so many arts and crafts kits available today, it can be fun to try and find one that matches the interests and personality of your loved one. Try to seek out kits that align with something they enjoyed when they were younger. For example, try a bird house-making kit if your loved one was an avid bird watcher. If they love jewelry, try a bead bracelet-making kit. With everything from DIY wind chime kits to rock painting kits to snow globe kits, your imagination is the only limit to your creativity!

Music

Music can be a magical window into the past, triggering happy memories and encouraging healthy reminiscing. Because music can be deeply personal and emotional, giving the gift of music to your loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia is a great way to bond.

1. Simple music player

Technology can sometimes be complicated for older adults, especially those with Alzheimer's and dementia. Consider getting your loved one a simple music player made with seniors. These players usually feature straightforward one- or two-button controls and can play the radio or MP3s. MP3s would have to be loaded onto the music player by a caregiver, family member, or friend, usually via a USB drive.

2. Music therapy stuffed animal

Plush stuffed animals that play music can offer comfort and calm to a person with Alzheimer's or dementia. Look for stuffed animals specifically for those with dementia, or find one that plays music you think your loved one would enjoy. Many therapy stuffed animals also are weighted, which offers an extra sense of comfort and security.

3. Custom music box

Give an extra special gift with a custom music box. You can pick meaningful songs for your loved one, like a favorite song, a wedding song, or simply one that has brought you together over the years. Many custom music box companies also do custom engraving on the box itself, so you can add another unique touch by adding names, dates, or other images that hold special significance for your loved one.

4. Custom playlist

Sometimes the simplest gifts can mean the most. If you know some of your loved one's favorite songs or songs that have been particularly meaningful throughout their life, make them a custom CD, USB drive, or streaming playlist. You can download music and put it onto a CD or USB drive or create a list on any music streaming service they may use, like Spotify, Amazon Music, or Apple Music.

Books & Reading

1. Books for those with Alzheimer's or dementia

Several publishers create books specifically for patients with Alzheimer's or dementia. These books cover many topics and feature large print and beautiful images. Because they are made specifically for older adults, they don't have that "kid" feeling that comes with children's books. They are lightweight and light on text, making them ideal for adults with Alzheimer's or dementia.

2. Coffee table books

There are so many fantastic coffee table books out there; you are sure to be able to find one that matches even the most specific interests. Engage your loved one's mind and spark exciting conversations by choosing a coffee table book with interesting images and text you can look through together.

3. Audiobooks

Audiobooks are a great option if trouble reading books is challenging for your loved one. You can borrow audiobooks through your local library, get them free through LibriVox, or purchase them through a service like Audible

Comfort, Soothe, and Fidget

1. Weighted blanket

Studies have shown that weighted blankets decrease stress and anxiety. Think about getting a big, warm hug from someone you love. Feels nice, right? A weighted blanket has a similar effect on your mind and body! Weighted blankets provide gentle pressure on the body that is perfect for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia who may have trouble sleeping or need help finding calm when they are agitated.

2. Photo blanket

Want to get a warm and cozy gift for your loved one with a little extra special surprise for them? Consider creating a custom blanket with your own photos or collage of photos. Every time your loved one cuddles up underneath their new warm blanket, they'll be reminded how much they are loved.

3. Non-slip house slippers

Sometimes a classic, comfy pair of house slippers is the perfect way to tell someone, "I love you." Make sure any slippers you purchase are non-slip so your loved one can walk around in them safely. Try to look for patterns or colors you think they would enjoy!

4. Essential oil diffuser

Smell is the sense most closely associated with memory, so it's not surprising that catching the scent of something familiar can have major calming effects on seniors with Alzheimer's and dementia. Certain smells can also trigger happy memories and encourage conversation. Experiment with aromatherapy and find your loved one's favorite smells with an essential oil diffuser. Many diffusers also include LED features that let you incorporate peaceful lights into the experience.

5. Fidget & sensory gifts

Many people with Alzheimer's or dementia become restless and tend to fidget, especially in the later stages. Luckily, there are many, many fidget and sensory toys on the market today, so you'll have no trouble finding the perfect one for your loved ones. Search for fidget and sensory toys online and explore the different options. You'll discover fidget blankets and aprons, pop tubes and bubbles, color-changing stress balls, fidget cubes, and so much more.

Gifts to Cuddle and Care For

Studies show that having something to care for can bring fun, play, and purpose into older adults' lives which in turn helps alleviate feelings of social isolation.

1. Stuffed animals or robot pets

The idea of robot pets may sound a little offputting at first, but these cuddly critters can make a difference in the life of seniors with Alzheimer's or dementia. Robot pets build on the traditional stuffed animal by adding a realistic, interactive element that allows older adults to be more immersed and engaged in the experience. 

You can always opt for a simple stuffed animal if a robot pet isn't the right fit. However, sometimes nothing can beat the simple comfort of snuggling a soft teddy bear or puppy dog.

2. Therapy doll

Therapy dolls are lifelike baby dolls often used to comfort seniors with Alzheimer's and dementia. These dolls can provide a soothing effect by offering a sense of purpose and comfort and bringing back fond memories of early parenthood. Just like robotic pets and stuffed animals, having something to care for can help them feel less isolated and give them something to look forward to each day.

Practical Gifts

1. Specialized clothing

If getting dressing has become challenging or behaviors like undressing are more frequent, consider buying some specialized outfits. These special clothes come with features to stop undressing and make dressing easier.

2. Large print calendar

A calendar is a handy gift for anyone heading into the new year! Select a large-print, easy-to-read calendar with images you think they will enjoy. Before giving it to them, consider writing special dates and reminders.

3. Red tableware

Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients increase their food intake by 24% and liquid intake by 84% when using red tableware. If your loved one is struggling to eat enough, consider buying a set of red tableware to encourage better eating habits.

4. Stick-on LED lights

Prevent falls and confusion at night by lighting the way for your loved one! Give a gift pack of stick-on LED lights that can be placed along walkways, bathrooms, and bedrooms to help light the way at night. 

Gifts to encourage sharing memories and conversation

1. Conversation cards

Conversation card games are a fun way to encourage conversation and reminisce with your loved one. These card games cover topics like family, friends, experiences from different decades, favorites, and more. And since there are no right or wrong answers and no "right" way to play, you can enjoy the memories together. And who knows, you may just learn something new about your loved one!

2. Memory box

A memory box can help those with Alzheimer's or dementia connect to the things they love. Put together a memory box with their unique past in mind. For example, add a knitted scarf if they loved knitting or a whisk and a spatula if baking was their passion. 

You can also tailor a box to a person's former work life. If your loved one was a handyman, include objects that will remind them of that - nuts, bolts, a tape measure, electrical tape, etc. If they were a teacher, add things like pencils, erasers, folders, or class photos from years past.

3. Photobooks

Photo books are another simple way to encourage conversation and bring back fond memories. Gather family photos and put them into a photobook yourself, or have a custom photobook printed online.

Experiences

1. Special outings

If you are having a hard time thinking of the perfect physical gift for your loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia, try an experience instead! You can give a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, a day out to get a manicure or pedicure, a trip to their favorite museum, or anything else you think they would enjoy. You can even make a special homemade coupon book that offers them a handful of special outings of their choice with you.

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Sophie Bebeau
Sophie Bebeau

Sophie Bebeau is a writer, graphic designer, poet, and multidisciplinary artist living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When she’s not writing or making things for the internet, she can be found cross-stitching, writing poetry, and snuggling on the couch with a cup of tea and her husband, son, and dog, Buttercup.