By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.
What do you get your elderly parents for Christmas? Chances are, they don’t need anything. But, if Mom and/or Dad has Alzheimer’s or dementia, there are some great holiday gift ideas that are practical, useful, and designed to help older adults cope with common late-life challenges that you might not have even heard of. (Source: www.betterhealthwhileaging.net)
Let’s start with the gift I just purchased for my 90-plus-year-old dad, who has been diagnosed with beginning Alzheimer’s. Dear old Dad was hospitalized four times in the past 18 months — each time for dehydration. So, whenever I’m visiting, I witness my mom and/or my sister constantly shoving a plastic bottle with electrolytes into his face, saying, “You haven’t taken one sip.”
To me, part of the problem was that there’s nothing appealing about that plastic container. So, this past Thanksgiving, I poured the contents of the plastic bottle into a fancy glass with ice. Seemed to work, it was all I could think of to help. However, the next time I visit, I’m pretty sure I’ll see that plastic bottle on the table again.
So, when I read about the “The Red Plate Study” out of Boston University, I took note. Did you know that approximately 40% of Alzheimer’s patients experience significant weight loss? This weight loss may be due to many different factors but the study out of Boston University suggests that significant weight loss is due in part to the loss of the ability to distinguish contrast between colors.
“While it is known that memory problems are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, many people don’t realize that vision problems are also an issue among people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said biopsychologist Alice Cronin-Golomb. People with Alzheimer’s are not able to distinguish light-colored food and drink on typically light-colored tableware.
“If the information getting into their brain through their eyes is already degraded, how can you expect them to do much with that?” said Cronin-Golomb. When using tableware that offered a high contrast to the food and drink (i.e.: bright red and bright blue), researchers noticed that the participants in the study increased their food intake by 24% and liquid intake by 84%. That’s amazing!
The study found that specially designed tableware can help reduce confusion and improve nutrition. A unique color (blue) different from common food is selected for the inside of the bowls since no food comes in a blue color. This will help to reduce the chance of any visual confusion. To help stimulate appetite, red and yellow are selected for the outside of the bowl and cups.
So the first holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s is adaptive tableware, such as Eat Well. Eat Well was awarded the winner of the “MindDesign” Student Design Challenge (2014) and named one of “The 25 Best Inventions of 2016” by Time magazine. You can purchase the award-winning tableware from their website, www.eatwellset.com. For my dad, I actually ordered the Redware Dishes for Alzheimer’s from www.caregiverproducts.com.
The second holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s is a smart picture frame that makes video calls. It’s been said that the very best gift you can give to an older loved one is your presence, which is priceless to elderly parents and will always make a difference. However, sometimes physical distance makes this somewhat impossible.
Because isolation may lead to increased risk of dementia in seniors, ViewClix Smart Frame picture frames are the only products designed to keep seniors connected to family without training or learning new technology. This is especially helpful for making video calls to someone with dementia or who isn’t able to physically answer a call. Plus, the frame can be remotely managed, which makes them hassle-free for the older adult.
My sister in Las Vegas and brother in Baltimore got one for my parents. ViewClix is always on and connected, showing pictures when not video chatting. When they call, ViewClix makes a beeping sound as it “auto-answers,” allowing Mom and Dad to receive a call without pressing a button. They have no login, no accounts to sign up for, and no passwords to remember. The frames are remotely managed by my sister and brother.
These ViewClix Smart Frame picture frames display digital photos in a 10.1-inch screen size or 15.6-inch screen size. When choosing a screen size, think about your family member’s vision: is it poor or starting to decline? If so, go with the largest screen size that your budget allows. Both sides have video calling with an auto-answer mode. You can find out more information on the website, www.viewclix.com.
The third holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s is a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets for dementia may sound silly, but they’ve been scientifically proven to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation. They’re especially helpful for soothing people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, day, or night, and have been scientifically proven to relieve distress and anxiety.
A 2008 study showed that weighted blankets were a safe and effective therapy for decreasing anxiety. These results were later confirmed in a 2012 study that found weighted blankets successfully decreased distress and visible signs of anxiety. The heaviness of the blanket provides something called deep pressure therapy. When the body feels the gentle pressure, it produces serotonin. That improves mood and promotes calm.
If your older adult wakes frequently during the night, consider a weighted blanket that covers their body. The blanket will help them relax and improve sleep quality. If your older adult is anxious or agitated during the day, use a weighted lap pad for the same calming and soothing effect in a more convenient, compact size.
The fourth holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s are the robotic Pet Companions. When someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may frequently become anxious or agitated. An effective, drug-free way to calm and soothe is to give them a soft toy they can cuddle and interact with. You can buy them from Joy for All Pet Companions on www.amazon.com.
Special robotic pets are designed to bring comfort and joy to seniors with dementia. They are lifelike and engaging, as well as being cute and cuddly soft. They’re battery-powered, so they can purr, meow, bark, move, and respond in realistic ways when petted or hugged. The are available in cats, kittens, and pups.
There’s nothing to feed, clean up after, care for, or worry about. There are also no worries about safety, like biting or getting tripped. And it’s available anytime, day or night, whenever the senior feels lonely. They purr just like a real cat, which can bring comfort, increase happiness, reduced agitation and anxiety, increased engagement through playing and talking with the stuffed animal, and give a sense of purpose from caring for their pet.
If you use a walker, the same company makes a “Walker Squawker” bird that is designed to deliver joy, fun, and companionship to older adults. You can pet the animatronic bird that fits in your hands or put on your walker. When the Walker Squawker detects that walking has stopped, it will playfully sing a “Don’t forget me” song to remind its owner of its presence. It’s available in Cardinal and Bluebird, and the perch for the walker is included.
The fifth holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s who lived through the 1950s in the USA and Britain. It’s called 1950s Memory Lane and is available on Amazon.com. It is intended to help stimulate long-term memories of those who lived through the 1950s, with sections on music, films, fashion, sport, holidays and much more.
This 35-page book is aimed at patients with early-stage dementia who like reading but find it hard to follow “normal” books. This book has large print, short easy-to-follow paragraphs, and plenty of illustrations. When read together with a relative or caregiver, it can also help promote conversation and reminiscence.
The book does not mention dementia or memory loss, or anything that could cause distress or embarrassment to patients, and it is written in a simple but not childish style. It can equally be enjoyed by those without memory loss, for example, grandparents reading together with grandchildren to help them learn about the “old days.”
The sixth (and last) holiday gift idea for people with Alzheimer’s I want to cover is the Conversation Cards for Adults by Shadowbox Press. These 52 two-sided cards are an engaging, interactive activity designed to improve the quality of communication for people living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, brain injury, or other memory loss condition.
There are 52 two-sided 6” x 9” cards with a non-reflective finish. The front of each card has a large color photo and the name of the item in large print text. The back of each card features nine questions that are designed to have no right or wrong answer. Questions also include open- and closed-ended either/or, and “Did you know” trivia questions.
The Conversation Cards offer a simple and engaging activity or game for dementia patients and their caregivers, activity professionals or speech therapists designed to provide sensory and cognitive stimulation while reminiscing, recalling memories, and sharing stories. They can be enjoyed at home, in long-term care, or in an assisted living facility.
In case you want to know what other gift ideas are available for people with Alzheimer’s, you can find a whole bunch more online, titled “The 50 Best Gifts for Seniors: Things You’ve Never Thought Of,” at www.dailycaring.com/big-list-gift-ideas-for-seniors/
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.