Holiday gifts for older family members and friends may require extra thought, especially for those living in nursing facilities. Wishing to share the holiday spirit, families sometimes purchase items that will either never be used, or can present unintended issues for other residents. Here are some tips for holiday shopping for your loved one who needs special consideration this season.
Is your loved one experiencing dementia? Putting together a memory album to keep at the bedside can provide several benefits. Depending on the level of dementia, photos of family members, familiar places, and special events can help remind the individual of family connections and history, thus reducing feelings of loneliness. The album can be used by visiting family and friends to promote reminiscing. Staff members of your loved one’s residence may also refer to the album to stimulate conversation and learn about the individual’s interests and past experiences, thus improving the quality of care. When putting together an album, bright colors and large photos should be used in case of diminished vision. Photos should include only one or two individuals per photo, and be clearly labelled with each individual’s name and relationship to the resident. Photos of deceased relatives and your loved one as a younger person should be included, as remote memories are often recalled more easily by dementia patients.
Personal touches always brighten up a room. A wall calendar is another opportunity for creativity and to share family photos. Younger family members can draw pictures for each month, or a photo-sharing website can be used to put together and print the calendar. A bulletin board to display individual photos, cards, and children’s artwork can dress up a plain wall, and is most effective if hung where the resident can easily see it. If your loved one has a favorite color, consider a lap robe or quilt for the bed (labelled with the resident’s name).
Thinking of some cozy pajamas for the winter? While the tops would be much warmer than standard medical gowns, keep in mind that if the resident experiences bladder/bowel incontinence, pajama bottoms won’t be worn. For the ladies, nightgowns would be bunched up around their waists, unless they are altered to open in the back. If you are planning to alter one yourself, consider purchasing a size larger than usually worn to allow extra fabric for the new seams in the back. If slippers are needed, choose ones with a sturdy non-skid sole to prevent falls. For any clothing items, be sure they are labelled with the resident’s name prior to being worn, or they may be difficult to locate after being laundered.
A favorite snack is another gift idea, but there are several considerations to keep in mind. Keeping the treat at the nurses’ station can help prevent ingestion by other residents who might wander into the room and help themselves if the treat is left on a table. Awareness of your loved one’s dietary restrictions, as well as their ability to chew and swallow appropriately, will affect your choice of treats. When packaging homemade treats, individually wrapped portions may stay fresh longer, and utilize containers that will be easy for possibly arthritic hands to open.
If a walker or wheelchair is utilized for mobility, a special bag or basket that can attach to the device will allow your loved one to easily keep frequently used items within reach. Colorful bags can also add a personalized touch to an otherwise ordinary medical device, perhaps making it more desirable to use and providing a conversation starter between residents. Bags such as these should be washable, as items can be forgotten at the bottom of a carrier. My neighbor purchased a bag for her mother’s walker, and several times found rotten bananas when assisting her mother to clean the bag out.
A word of caution if you are choosing gift items with strong fragrances. Although your family member may love the scent of lavender, other residents may have respiratory conditions or allergies which could be aggravated by the strong scents of shampoos, lotions, perfumes, air fresheners, etc. Check with facility staff prior to purchasing these items.
A precious gift that can be given to anyone, but cannot be wrapped, is time. Share a visit with an elderly relative or friend this holiday season, and you may touch more than one life. Someone once shared with me that his father was not always aware of his visits to the nursing facility, and on such occasions he often spoke to another resident. Sometime later, he met the family of the other resident, who shared that they regularly stopped to speak with his father during their visits. This kindness was a comfort to both families. A visit to someone in a medical or residential facility, or a homebound senior, may be out of your comfort zone. But a few minutes of time may end up being the most valuable gift that you give this season.
Karen Kaslow, RN
Keystone Elder Law