Anything But Bingo

Resources to enhance the daily life of people living with dementia

Gift Ideas for someone living with dementia

Is the ubiquitous Christmas Gift List useful? Let's face it; not every lady would make use of a Cath Kidson gardening set, want the latest Peter Andre CD or get excited to open a 'top of the range' smoothie maker on Christmas morning. However I still find myself drawn to the 'list' and indeed am now embarking on writing my own!

It therefore goes without saying that not everything on this list will suit everyone living with dementia. Circumstances, personal taste, budget, stage of dementia and so on will dictate your final choice of present. I know from experience that some find it tricky to come up with an idea for their loved one, especially an older person, someone living in residential care or especially someone living with dementia so here are a few of my ideas ....

£10 and under

Colouring book - It is now easy to find an adult themed colouring book thanks to the latest trend. Combine this with a pack of coloured pens or pencils.

Bird feeder - Does your loved one look out of a window from their armchair or bed? A bird feeder attracts regular friends and topping it up is a great activity.

MP3 players - can be purchased for as little as £5. Load up an SD memory card with a selection of their favourite tunes.

Memory Box - Take a look at my post on memory boxes. If you have some time to put one together it would make a wonderful personal gift.

Hand lotion - Hand massages or even just to keep hands soft. Choose something with a familiar smell and a little luxury.

Photo frame - Fill a table top or hanging frame with family photos. Choose a simple frame so that it doesn't distract from the photo inside.



Jigsaw - There are some lovely adult themes jigsaws available that have a limited number of large pieces. At £15 they are, as you would hope, good quality and will stand repeated use.

A photo album - Put together a small album of family photographs, each one clearly annotated with names / location etc

Hanging Mobile- For someone who spends their days in their bed the view can sometimes be a little monotonous. A well placed and well chosen mobile can be a lovely distraction. (Be aware that this might not be suitable for someone who experiences visual delusions or visual confusion).



Fiddle cushion / apron / muff - These are readily available and ideal for someone at the latter stages of dementia who enjoy sensory stimulation. If you, or someone you know, is handy with a sewing machine it is a nice sewing project.

Aromatherapy diffuser - Well chosen aromatherapy oils can help to lighten the mood, calm a distressed individual and even stimulate appetite. Aromatherapy diffusers are heatless, flameless and smokeless so ideal where safety is of concern.

Bubble tube - At the later stages of dementia, when sensory stimulation is helpful a bubble tube can be a soothing and stimulating addition. They are available in a large range of sizes and price; the lower end of the price range are perfectly adequate.

Indoor plants - Looking after an indoor plant is a regular meaningful activity. You can choose a plant that suits the room (amount of sun etc) and the amount of care it might receive (i.e.. a cactus almost never needs water!).

Perfume / after shave - If your loved one has always worn perfume or after-shave it is nice to maintain that self care regimen.

A day out - Buying someone an experience as a gift is ideal for someone who 'has everything'. If it is practical to do so why not buy your loved one a voucher for afternoon tea and make it a day out.


£50 and over

Flowers - monthly delivery of fresh flowers would brighten up any bedroom and arranging them provides a valuable, meaningful activity. At £15 a month it is a more substantial gift but one that will keep giving!

Small fridge - If you have a larger budget; for someone living in residential care there is something quite liberating about having access to you own supply of cold drinks in your own room.











Montessori based dementia programming

A 5 hour train journey home from York is a rare piece of thinking time to digest the course I have been on today - Montessori based dementia programming, and to consider how it might impact on my day to day work.

There were 9 people on the course; a selection on Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists ... and me! I am quite sure that those professionals, everyone of them passionate about improving the lives of people living with dementia will have their own opinion of the methods we learnt about today. There is much about it that leaves me cold not least of which is the name. Montessori is so closely associated with the education of children, and dementia 'programming' sounds very rigid and impersonal. The creator of the techniques, Cameron Camp speaks passionately about how the word Alzheimers Disease has a negative impact and that it should be renamed Alzheimers Syndrome so he understands the power of words, and yet there is no acknowledgement of the impact of using the terms 'Montessori' or 'Programming'. I am sure that if nothing else the name will stop this menthod from becoming more widely used.

What is Montessori

The Montessori method shares some underpinning principles with other dementia approaches such as the Eden Alternative; the importance of meaningful activity that is person centred, and that a diagnosis of dementia should not be a signal to disengage, disempower or disenfranchise that individual. The practical application of Montessori seems more confusing. It is a mixture of implementing everyday living activities such as laying the dinner table and more therapeutic interventions like moving beans from one bowl to another. It is these latter activities which are more controversial. They are based on the first in / last out theory that skills we learnt first as a child are the last to go.

When it works

In my opinion it is the later stages of dementia that the therapeutic approach of Montessori comes into its own. The facilitator is encouraged to consider environment, demonstrate before expecting participation, start at a basic level before increasing difficulty, and to use minimal communication to avoid confusion. Tasks are straightforward and use everyday objects that are pleasing to the eye. All good so far. The concerns many people have with Montessori is the types of tasks suggested. They seem to rarely have purpose, they could be construed as childish and patronising.


I have tried some of these tasks, for example sock matching and putting pegs on a box, and I think this approach has a place; with an individual who is disengaging, is lost in the world around them, who finds every day activities challenging, confusing and distressing. The simplistic tasks can be really successful at providing someone with the occupation and achievement otherwise lost to them.



A word of caution

If possible try to retain some form of purpose. If you want to try shoe polishing find shoes that actually need polishing. If the task is to fold towels get freshly dried ones from the line or tumble drier. In other words, activity should be a spontaneous reaction to the environment around you rather than prescribed tasks pulled out of drawer. This is where Montessori and I part ways! Taking a pile of freshly folded napkins from the linen cupboard, shaking them out and giving them to someone to fold again undermines everything we are trying to change about dementia care..... and one day one of those people you are handing them to will catch you out and you will realise how wrong it is. I've been there.



Something I learnt from my fellow students today was how difficult it can be to be spontaneous and instinctive about activities in some medical settings, and yet how much staff want to stimulate and enthuse their clients with dementia. Life on an acute medical ward, or even a rehabilitation unit is dictated by health & safety, budget and even space. Many of the ideas I have spring from my work in residential homes and what I hope is possible in people's own homes. The determination of staff in these roles is inspiring and I will try to consider some adaptations to my weekly blogs to inspire these lovely people too!



3 examples of community involvement in Dementia Residential Care.

I am not a wordsmith so I shy away from writing lengthy blog posts and prefer to show you something instead. However this week I do want to share with you some of my recent experiences of community engagement with residential care.

When I started my new job just a couple of months ago one of the initial aims I set for myself was to initiate regular and significant community engagement. I firmly believe that bringing people into a care home, and supporting those living in residential care to spend time in their local community has numerous benefits for everyone involved.

Local coffee mornings

Our local Alzheimer Scotland group has started a Musical Memories coffee morning once a month. It takes place in the local church hall and we had a duet from the Music in Hospitals organisation singing to us, as well as a tea and cake break midway through. A lady and gentleman who live where I work came with me last month. He took huge pleasure from singing and clapping along and she smiled almost the entire afternoon. During the 'interval' ladies from the church came and sat with us and chatted to my friends about local people and places they knew. There were awkward moments when the hosts would insist on using the phrase "do you remember" far too often, and asking me "do they take sugar" but, and here is the first lesson, they will learn. Me and my two friends started the dementia education of these kind, well intentioned ladies and my friends had an absolute ball in the process.


Halloween Trick or Treat

We are a small residential home so a handful of visitors in our main lounge instantly feels like a party. On Halloween we were visited by over a dozen children; staff family, friends and supporters. In advance the residents and I had prepared treat bags and party games and decorated the lounge. On the night each child performed to earn their treat bag; the ladies charmed by toddlers singing their songs, the gentlemen amused by silly jokes. It felt joyous, for everyone involved. The photo of one the older ladies in our home, beaming from ear to ear, with a 1 year old 'pink rabbit' on her lap for a cuddle will endure in my memory for some time to come and inspire me to continue to organise such events. Both the children and those living in the home benefited from our Halloween night; the children genuinely had fun and engaged with people in their community who need them for their engagement, support and love. The adults genuinely had fun and engaged with people in their community (two of whom are wheelchair users with significant needs) who need them for their learning, development, support and love. It's a win:win.


Two of the people I work with had expressed an interest in going swimming. So far I have taken one gentleman to the pool. It was a challenge of access, practicalities, confidence and timing but it paid off as we encountered helpful staff, warm water and, amazingly, an empty pool. My friend achieved significant exercise as well as periods of floating relaxation and I boosted my confidence and enthusiasm to continue to be brave and empower the people I work with to be brave too.

In addition we have also been to the garden centre, library, local shops. We have had a bake sale and are planning a fireworks party, Christmas Fair and Christmas decorating party as well a a trip to the local AmDram panto. I plan to organise for volunteers to help us in the home and, if I can, for one or two of the residents to volunteer in the community themselves. It's a big task but it is hugely rewarding for everyone involved. I'm not pretending I am the only person doing this; I know for sure that there is amazing work happening in residential care across the country, but for those who aren't I hope this will give you some inspiration and / or confidence to try and engage with your community.

               Who am I?



I am a forty-something mother of two.

I love learning and creating, and do

what I can to improve the well-being

of people living with dementia.

I have worked in residential dementia

care for a few years and hope that I

have something useful to share.



  • Entries (22)
  • Comments (10)