A question I’m often asked is what would I recommend buying a person with dementia? This has become even more pertinent with so many family members unable to see relatives with dementia during the pandemic, and looking for ideas of things they can send to loved ones to help keep them as comfortable and happy as possible.
Nothing you can buy, of course, is a substitute for the human contact we are all missing at the moment, but I hope the following ideas will help families who are wondering what they can send to their loved one to support their wellbeing in these difficult times.
A CD player and lots of CD’s
My absolute No1 best buy for my dad was his CD player and all of the CD’s he played on it. In fact dad had a few CD players (they would often get broken, as is the way of things in care homes), but they were a relatively inexpensive purchase and the difference they made to dad’s life was worth every penny.
I wrote in my blog ‘Singing from the same hymn sheet‘ that we originally installed a TV into dad’s room, but after it got broken (dad decided he would throw it on the floor!) we got the message that perhaps he wasn’t enjoying mind-numbing daytime TV. Music was dad’s salvation, and as I’ve shared many times on this blog and through other forums, when my dad could no longer hold a conversation he could still sing a song.
These days families and care professionals have more choices when bringing music into someone’s life – from personalised MP3 players to Alexa devices. Whatever technology you choose, do take a look at these tips for creating a personalised playlist from Music for Dementia. In addition, remember to give any care professionals involved in your loved one’s life as much information as possible about music that is significant to your relative and how they can best support those musical passions.
A comfy chair
My dad spent the vast majority of the last years of his life in the chair we bought him, so again it was money very well spent. Back when my dad was in care homes, the standard issue chairs were pretty uncomfortable. They were practical with their wipe-clean plastic seats, but my dad would push himself down the chair to the point he was almost on the floor.
So we bought my dad the sort of chair you’d have in your lounge – this was it. Comfy and inviting, and not at all like what care homes had back then.
Crucially, it enabled my dad to settle into it to the point that, supported by cushions, he would remain seated in the chair and not shuffle himself to the edge of it. He would eat and drink (propped up by cushions), sleep, sing and pretty much do everything from the comfort of that chair. Yes, it got a bit stained (the covers were washable and we used throws on it), but it made him so happy and in my book that’s all that counts.
Meaningful home furnishings
I’ve mentioned how important cushions were for my dad’s ability to eat and drink safely during his years with dysphagia (swallowing problems). Originally we just had some plain cushions, but these were replaced with something much more meaningful when we decided to make dad’s room reflective of his life story.
For my dad, this meant cushions with pictures of farmyard animals as my dad had been a farmer. We had lots of them, and the ones that weren’t being used on dad’s chair were kept on the bed for him to look at.
We also had some life-like (not cartoon) miniature farmyard animals that dad would hold. For a long-time he had very restless hands, and would often pick at his clothes, chair throws, and even his skin (until it bled). Introducing these animals gave him something to hold, stroke and cuddle, which meant he was instantly calmer, he had a purpose (‘looking after’ the animals) and crucially he didn’t pick at his skin and the fabrics on and around him. This was, in hindsight, a form of what would now be called ‘doll therapy’ (but with soft toys). It’s a controversial therapy, but I’d say if it brings your loved one comfort and isn’t done in an infantilising way then try it.
There is often a temptation when choosing clothes for a person with dementia to go for the easiest options from a care perspective and dress the person in jogging bottoms etc. But as I wrote about in my blog ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T‘, smart and dignified clothes are important for many people. If the person chooses jogging bottoms or t-shirts for themselves that’s fine, but all options should be open to them.
I made my own mistakes with my dad’s clothing – I vividly remember choosing pyjamas that were a modern t-shirt and shorts set. That only led to care staff mistaking them for day clothes and dad remaining in his PJ’s all day! From then on, I sourced PJ’s that were more traditional.
Being able to dress in colours, fabrics and styles that a person likes can really help them to feel good about themselves. And with online ordering being so readily available now, getting items sent to your loved one is easier than ever.
Favourite foods and drinks
The items I bought most regularly for my dad were the things he consumed. Fruit smoothies became vital during his years with dysphagia, and we’d often buy him extra treats of chocolates and puddings.
We would take these items in when we visited him, but for families who are currently separated you could either have items delivered directly to the person’s home or care home (if you can meet the minimum spending guidelines supermarkets/online retailers have), or provide care staff with money or a gift card to get items you’d like your loved one to have.
Until next time…