Family Living Focus: Caring gifts for caregivers

Family Living Focus

Nearly any season has its typical gift giving occasions.  From yuletide to birthdays and anniversaries, the need to find an appropriate gift presents itself. When the gifts are for caregivers or their special needs loved ones, it becomes necessary to place a little more thought into the right gift.

The individual who once knitted or did other handicrafts may now be impaired with a debilitating function that prevents fine hand maneuvers. In a case like this, the gift of massage may help restore some hand movement, or provide much needed pain alleviation. Although massage can be expensive, some therapists will offer “bulk” rates, or can be asked about “short sessions” for the elderly. This may be especially attractive since fragile individuals may not tolerate much handling, however gentle.  Keep caregivers in mind for this type of gift, also.  The same principles of time and cost apply.  With massage, you may want to pre-pay the tip, or give a small bill appended to the massage receipt, a note reading “It’s all taken care of.”

Caregivers may be at a loss for loved ones’ gifts, especially in the case of dementia.  A few small items from a “dollar” store may save funds and provide just as much enjoyment. Think twice about breakable items, because a beloved statue or water globe that breaks may create sadness for caregiver and family. 

Small stuffed animals or dolls may appear juvenile, but not to the patient with dementia. The sensory stimulation from textured fabric and stuffing may provide comfort to the individual, as well as companionship.  While friends, family and caregivers are much needed sources of stimulation, there is a unique sense of constancy from a rag doll or teddy bear. There is no obligation or demand to interact with the figure, and whatever is received from it comes from within the loved one’s heart. 

Remind individuals that as a caregiver you appreciate them giving you samples from hotels (soap, lotions), or cleaning out their home of powders and colognes that may be “new” or barely used, but they are not acceptable as gifts for you or your family member. This important point helps you as a caregiver retain your dignity and your loved one’s. 

We have all been through the fruitcake that has been given from one household to another. While that occasionally happens, in the long run, allowing used products to be wrapped up as gifts because the person with dementia “doesn’t know anyway” only contributes to devaluing them. As a caregiver, you may not only come to regret permitting this, but may eventually resent the person who gives the gift.  It’s much better to say “Grandma would really prefer one of your home baked cherry pies” in a kind, but firm voice that sets limits.  If you are pushed up against the comment about a family member not being able to tell the difference, a simple “But I will” can suffice.

Alzheimer’s and related conditions may coexist with everything from diabetes to transitory infections.  While Medicare and backup insurances may help with costs, a gift card to a pharmacy to help out with these expenditures is also a thoughtful gift.

Gift cards come in many styles, and a loaded up coffee card may come in handy for both caregiver and loved one.  A Sunday afternoon at the coffee shop may break up a dull weekend when there is no respite care.  Likewise, restaurant and grocery cards defray cost of living, and help out to buy that “something special” a loved one has a taste for. 

Individuals in home improvement occupations can offer their services to help make the home a safer place. This is especially helpful when larger bathrooms are needed, doorways replaced with wider-swinging hinges, or other ideas that make home design safer. 

Clothing repair or alteration can be a gift as well.  Budgets may not be able to handle buying new clothes, but everything old becomes new when adorned with fabric paint or iron on decals.  A favorite blouse that has become stained may not be able to have the stain removed.  Yet, the dye artist can create a new piece with a run through the washing machine. Even later stage patients can appreciate a re-working of color. As long as everyone is careful that paint or sewn on items hold fast, it becomes a snappy garment.

Ideally, the gift caregivers and interested parties want to give is the gift of healing and recovery.  Such an option exists in making donations in the name of the family unit and patient.  Until a lasting cure is found for Alzheimer’s and related processes, any gift from the heart is special.

Gifting Do, Gifting Don’t

Be aware of the ability of the person to use equipment, even something simple like a radio.  You may spend time showing them how to use it, but even early stage patients may find they are frustrated.  This calls attention to their memory disorder and can push caregivers to the limit if they are unfamiliar with the equipment (such as DVD players).

Don’t assume that the individual has the same tastes they once did.  Grandma may have loved orange, but can’t stand it now.  Take the current situation and likes into consideration.

Don’t be upset if the loved one expresses displeasure over the gift.  Their minds are changing, and it often has nothing to do with you or your selection.  Later, they may grow to like your choice very much.

When giving to caregivers, use the same rules. Caring for the loved one short circuits the whole family, and it may not be a case of like or dislike. Include receipts to allow for exchanges. Purchasing an expensive piece of jewelry may seem like a great way to uplift someone who has to deal with the mundane. But if it isn’t practical because standard gear is a t-shirt and sweatpants, it’s best to forego the glamour.


Information from article by Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer in Today’s Caregiver.Com Newsletter, December 9, 2014 – Issue #772.

If you would like more information on “Caring Gifts for Caregivers” feel free to contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.


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