It’s getting late for holiday shopping, but many of us are still searching for the right gift for an elderly loved one or a friend who is seriously ill.  We certainly cannot fall back on gift certificates or cash when it comes to these special and fragile people in our lives.  Even more, we certainly should not leave them off our gift lists, thinking that Aunt Edna doesn’t even know its holiday time or that with so little time left, Grandpa doesn’t need any gifts.

Holidays have a way of reaching into the minds of people with dementia.  All too often, sights of decorations and sounds of carols bring these folks to tears or send them into a cloud of sadness. But that tendency toward tears and sadness is simply the opposite of the equally strong tendency toward joy and fond memories.  Our gift-giving should try to tap into these.

Practical gifts that a person can truly use are great.  Find out what lotion the person prefers, what style of clothing is most comfortable, etc.  Also wonderful are CDs of music or radio shows from the person’s younger years.  You might also need to bring a CD player and sit with your loved one and listen and enjoy together.  The memories and your presence will both be part of your gift!

For both elderly and seriously ill people, photos in a digital picture frame that continuously changes is a wonderful gift.  Without any effort, photos of both past and present people and places gently come into view.  I have seen folks watch these for hours with great enjoyment.

It might be true that a person who is ill doesn’t “need” any gifts, but we all need to be included, assured that we are loved, told that we matter.  At this busy time of year, don’t let a person who is leaving soon be forgotten while they are still here!  The best gifts are gifts of yourself, your presence.  Perhaps the person would enjoy a hand massage, listening to you read a short story, playing a game of cards or a board game.  You know the person—give from your heart!

One last small but important thing:  wrap any gifts you give in the best way you can—beautiful paper, elaborate bows, amazing presentations.  To a person who may feel at the edge of holiday celebrations, think what a carefully, beautifully wrapped package can say.  Everyone needs to feel special sometimes.  And you know, our sick and elderly loved ones are among the most special of all.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!!