I volunteer to visit some women with dementia at a local memory care facility. Ethel is one of my "ladies." One day I took her a small wrapped gift -- just a decorative note pad. When she saw the present her whole face lit up.
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 special.
I had learned years before about the importance of presents from my beloved Romanian life partner, Ed.
Once I took him a pair of new shoes. He immediately exclaimed, "These are the most beautiful shoes I've ever had in my whole life."
They weren't especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary pair of Dr. Scholl's. But to him they were amazing.
Back to the present. One of my ladies loves getting the newspaper, so I take her one every time I go to visit. She isn't overly effusive about it but she always asks me, "Is this today's paper?" I always answer in the affirmative, which I can tell pleases her.
Another one of my ladies, Carolyn (since deceased), loved Tchaikovsky, so I gave her a CD of the Nutcracker Suite. It brought her great joy. She looked radiant every time we listened to it and that was very pleasing to me, too.
My final "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.
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 enjoyed tearing off the wrapping paper more than she enjoyed the soft drinks.
You should be prepared, however, for a gift to be instantly set aside and subsequently ignored. You see, they enjoy seeing and unwrapping a present more than they 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 her religion was very important to her so I took a CD of hymns. She enjoyed opening the present but then put it 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 three "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. As before, they enjoy getting and unwrapping the gifts even if they soon completely forget about them.
The thing to remember is that people with Alzheimer's live only in the present. If you understand that you won't be disappointed when they shunt the present aside. The main thing is to bring them pleasure in the moment and that's what a wrapped gift usually does.
These are but some examples of the joy presents can bring to people with Alzheimer's. Does anyone have any other examples of gift giving to share?
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 has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's Caregivers.
Note: I have changed the names of all of the women to protect their privacy.