Apr 16, 2014

Marie Answers, Can Gifts Bring Joy to a Person Living With Dementia?

Everyone loves getting presents and people living with Alzheimer’s are no exception.

Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I originally learned about the importance of gift giving from my beloved Romanian life partner, Ed. It started one time when I took him a pair of new shoes.

When he put them on, he immediately exclaimed, “These are the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever had.”

They weren’t especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary pair of black Dr. Scholl’s with Velcro fasteners. But to him they were special.

Then one day on a whim and against my better judgment I bought a little yellow stuffed chick for Ed. I was afraid he would be insulted that I took him a child’s toy, but decided to try it anyway.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
I went out to the nursing home and put it in his hand. At first he just sat there looking at the thing. I had no idea what he was thinking.

But I didn’t have to wait long. Soon he held it to his chest, petted it and kissed it.

Then he looked me right in the eyes and said, “Thank you! Thank you so much! I never had such a lovely present in all my life!

More recently the value of giving gifts to people living with Alzheimer’s was reinforced by some of “my ladies” - women I volunteer to visit at a local memory care facility.

Ethel is one of “my ladies.” (That’s not her real name.)

One day I took her a small wrapped gift - just a decorative note pad with a magnet on the back and a pen attached with a string. I thought she would like it because she was always writing down things to help her remember.

When she saw the present her whole face lit up.

She was so excited that I was afraid she was going to be disappointed. So as she was beginning to unwrap it I told her, “It’s just a small gift, Ethel. It’s no big deal.”

Her response was very touching.

“I know, honey, but it’s a present.”

By that she meant she was happy to get a present no matter what it was. She meant that getting presents is wonderful.

Another one of “my ladies,” Carolyn (since deceased), loved Tchaikovsky so I gave her a CD of the Nutcracker Suite. Every time I visited her I played some selections of it. It brought her great joy. She looked radiant every time we listened to it and that was pleasing to me, too.

Still another “lady” is Ruth. Ruth loves big-band music, so I took her a CD of Glenn Miller. She was ecstatic. It was a true joy to see her so happy.

Here’s a tip: I always wrap the presents, even if they are little things you might not ordinarily wrap, such as a couple of cans of Dr. Pepper I took Ethel. She really enjoyed tearing off the wrapping paper.

You should be prepared, however, for a gift to be instantly set aside and subsequently ignored.

You see, people living with Alzheimer’s apparently enjoy seeing and unwrapping a present more than they actually enjoy having it. I think that’s because they immediately forget about it once they’ve opened it.

That's what happened with another gift I took Ethel. I knew that religion was very important to her so I took a CD of hymns.

She enjoyed opening the package but then put the CD away and spent the next 15 minutes asking me questions about my portable CD player! She asked me repeatedly where I got it and how much I paid for it. It fascinated her and held her attention far longer than the gift did.

Since I have four "ladies," it's beginning to get a little expensive, even if I do take just little things. So one by one I've been stealing the presents and taking them back at a later time.

So far I've gotten away with this. No one has ever remembered I previously gave them the same present.

And as before, they enjoy getting and unwrapping the gifts even if they soon completely forget about them.

The gifts bring them joy for a short time and that’s what matters.

Does anyone else have any stories about giving gifts to their loved one?

Forget Me Not

Related Articles

Note: This is a revised version of an article originally published on the Huffington Post.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room