Gift ideas for people in nursing homes

“What do I get for someone who lives in a nursing home?” one of our readers asked us last year. It’s a good question — sometimes it’s tricky to work around constraints like limited space and health issues.

This year, we decided to make a list. While your recipient’s health and abilities should always be kept in mind, here are some ideas to inspire your thinking.

Gift ideas they’ll love

– Christmas wreath or decoration for their door. If there’s enough space, consider a mini Christmas tree with built-in lights.

– Guest book. Let visitors leave their warm wishes in writing. In cases where memory problems or dementia are involved, guest books can help family members keep track of who has come to visit.

– Photo board. A padded, fabric covered board with ribbons in which to slip photos encourages guests to bring in new pictures, and they’re easy to swap in and out. (You can find them at craft or photography stores, or make your own.)

– Custom bed coverings or a throw blanket can add a personal touch to the room and make it feel more homey. A throw blanket or small quilt can keep legs warm. Silk or satin pillowcases are a nice luxury because they’re easier on delicate skin and create less fuss for hair styling.

– Spruce up their décor. Dress up the walls with “wallies” or cut your own shapes out of a roll of wallpaper border to stick up as decals — they’ll be easy to remove later on. Help them choose a fresh set of curtains to brighten up the space.

– Suncatchers or decals for the window add some colourful decoration without getting in the way.

– Magazine subscriptions or audio books.

– “Outside food” — like a cup of coffee and cookie from their favourite chain or a favourite take-out meal to enjoy with them.

– Specialty food items. A nice tin of non-perishable candies, confections and cookies also give residents something to offer guests when they come to visit. Also, some fresh fruit, jams and jellies to enjoy with their meals offer some welcome variety.

– Top up their account. Many residents appreciate a little cash for in-house services like the general store and hairdresser, and it can cover optional activities and outings.

– Fresh flowers can brighten up the room. Choose a bouquet of cut flowers instead potted plants, unless you know someone can take care of them on a regular basis.

– A “coupon book” for running errands, shopping trips and other outings.

– A nice pair of pyjamas or a bed jacket. A zippered cardigan can also keep people cozy, and a pair of slippers will keep feet toasty. (Just be sure to avoid slippery fabrics.)

– Music. Some soothing tunes or a CD of your loved one’s favourite songs can be enjoyed any time. Music can also help people suffering from dementia remember happy times.

– A visit. Ultimately, the best thing you can offer is your company. Bring in a movie or watch a TV special or sports event with them. Plate up some homemade goodies and sliced fresh fruit for a mini Christmas party. Give your favourite lady a manicure or pedicure.

Tips for smarter shopping

– Steer clear of strongly scented perfumes, lotions or flowers. Many people have allergies — including staff and other visitors.

– Breakable items can pose a safety hazard — especially if they can’t be cleaned up right away.

– Pack modest sized portions of perishable foods. It’s better to bring less goodies than to have them go to waste.

– Check with the family or with staff to find out if gifts of food are appropriate. Your recipient may have certain dietary needs, and Christmas goodies can cause stomach upsets and diarrhea.

– Leave animal prints in the store. People with dementia can find them frightening. Likewise, avoid the colour black if you can because it can be hard to see.

– If you’re giving blankets or clothing, make sure someone can sew in a label with the recipient’s name on it. Items can get lost in the laundry or go wandering with other residents.

– Unfortunately, theft is possibility so avoid valuable and one-of-a-kind items you would hate to see go missing.

And a final word of advice: be aware that whatever you buy will have to be stored somewhere and someone will have to take care of it if you’re not around. If you’re able, offer to store items like holiday décor yourself.

When in doubt, ask ahead of time if your gift idea is appropriate. The nurses, personal support workers and volunteers who spend a lot of time with your loved one can offer great advice. If you aren’t close by and don’t visit often, check in with the family first.

A special thanks to everyone who helped us compile this list, including Facebook fans Gale, Anne and Karen.

Got an idea to add? Post a comment and help us build this list.

Photo © JJRD

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