Holiday Gifts for Caregivers Should Provide Much-Needed Respite, Make Caregiving Easier

Release Date: December 14, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With an estimated 65 million caregivers in the U.S., many Americans have at least one on their holiday gift list. Family members and friends can choose gifts that will make caregiving easier and provide a much-needed respite from the often overwhelming demands of caregiving, according to Michael Noe, MD, associate dean for community relations and clinical affairs in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

"The caregiver role is probably one of the most stressful roles that an individual can be involved in, particularly when it involves caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or other causes of dementia," says Noe. "Anything that a friend or family member can do to acknowledge that stress and help the caregiver deal with it, essentially caring for the caregiver, will make an enormous difference."

Noe and Miriam R. Callahan, project coordinator, Caregiver Resource Center, Erie County Senior Services, and a clinical assistant professor of social and preventive medicine at UB, locally implemented Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a very popular and effective joint project of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions and the Erie County Caregiver Coalition that helps family caregivers deal with the stresses and challenges of caregiving.

Noe and Callahan say that it is critical that loved ones better understand and help ease the intense pressures with which caregivers struggle on a daily basis. They say that good holiday gifts for caregivers are:

1. The gift of time. Offer to stay with and care for the care recipient so that the caregiver can have some time alone to do anything he or she wants to do by themselves. "Don't just say you'll do it, make it a formal, specific promise," advises Callahan. She suggests creating a personalized gift certificate that states the date(s) when you will take care of the loved one, and for how long.

2. A chance to be pampered. Because of the constant attention that many care recipients require, the caregiver typically puts all of the care recipients' needs first. A gift certificate for a massage, a visit to a spa or salon and then offering to stay with the care recipient or arranging for someone else to stay with the care recipient provides the caregiver with a much-needed opportunity to relax and unwind.

3. Movie tickets or a dinner out. Make arrangements to have the care recipient taken care of while you treat the caregiver to dinner in a restaurant or to a show. "Often, the caregiver who is so involved with caregiving needs a nudge to get out and do something on their own and you can provide that gift," says Callahan.

4. Housecleaning, snowplowing or landscaping service. Any type of service that allows a professional to take care of something that the caregiver would ordinarily do can ease the caregiver's burden.

5. Attendance at the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program. This six-week educational program, which attendees have called "transformative," provides caregivers with the tools they need to take care of themselves. The six, weekly 2.5 hour sessions help caregivers learn how to reduce their stress, improve self-confidence, better communicate feelings and locate helpful resources. "A great gift idea would be to arrange care for the care recipient so that a caregiver can attend the sessions," says Callahan, who also is a master PTC trainer. The sessions are especially helpful when two siblings or a caregiver and adult child attend them together, she says.

Gifts that Ease Caregiving

1. Portable grab bars. These bars, which attach to any wall surface, can help a care recipient who has trouble with balance or walking, or just getting out of a chair. Some are also load-bearing grab bars, which can support a person's weight, while some are primarily for balance.

2. Lazy Susan. The same type of device that makes getting spice jars out of a cabinet easier has been adapted to make getting into and out of a car easier for people who have mobility issues. This lightweight cushion has a swivel on its base so it can be put onto the car seat and when the person is seated on it, it easily swivels them into the proper position for sitting in the passenger seat.

3. Respite videos. These videos are specifically designed for the individual with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. The videos engage the person who is watching, asking them simple questions and discussing pleasant subjects, such as schooltime or childhood memories. They are often engaging enough to allow the caregiver time to tend to another task. These videos are often available to borrow from the Alzheimer's Association and similar organizations.

4. Baby monitors. For the caregiver, a baby monitor can become an extremely valuable item, allowing him or her to leave the care recipient in another room while he or she tends to another task or even goes outside to garden for a brief period. New versions of baby monitors have both audio and video functions, allowing the caregiver to see if their loved one is staying safe, while they are doing something else.

5. Identical copies of favorite items. Callahan and Noe suggest that care recipients can become preoccupied with a particular piece of clothing or a favorite item, such as keys or a wallet. When these items become lost or misplaced, or need to be washed, the care recipient can become agitated or nervous. It can make things much easier for the caregiver if there are extra copies of the exact same thing, so that the care recipient won't notice when the item is washed or misplaced.

6. Adaptive clothing. For the disabled care recipient who cannot easily be dressed, adaptive clothing available online and through organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association, can make it easier for the caregiver to accomplish daily dressing activities.

7. Activity aprons and Twiddle-Muffs. These items can help calm the care recipient who may require tactile stimulation. They include different textures, such as soft and hard, bumpy and smooth; they also may include zippers and large, easy to handle buttons that are easily done and undone.

8. Alzheimer's-proofing the house. Erie County offers a free service, where skilled staff from the Erie County Dept. of Senior Services will provide a personalized assessment, including an extensive home visit, to see what needs to be done to make your home safe for the Alzheimer's disease or dementia patient. The county program was developed in partnership with Mark Warner, co-author of the bestselling book, "The Complete Guide to Alzheimer's-Proofing Your Home."

9. Books by other caregivers. Since caregiving itself tends to be very isolating, buying a caregiver a book that describes how someone else got through it can be very helpful. Some of the most popular include "The 36-hour Day," "And Thou Shalt Honor: The Caregiver's Companion" and "Elder Rage," but there are many such books and the local library or the local Alzheimer's Association will allow people to borrow them for free.

In addition to these gifts, Noe and Callahan add that one of the best things family members and friends can do for caregivers is to listen, communicate and be honest. "Often, caregivers don't get the kind of cooperation they need from family members or friends, so they can end up feeling isolated," says Noe. "They also may lose their friendships because they are so busy caregiving; they often don't get what they need from their siblings. Caregiving is much more difficult than it appears to be and friends and family can help the caregiver not to lose the sense of responsiblity that caregivers have to themselves, to take their of themselves and their health. They have to do things that will help relieve the stress."

For more information on resources available in Erie County, and to sign up for the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program, please contact the Erie County Department of Senior Services at 716-858-2177 or email

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