Is It OK to Buy Your Parent a Toy?

~Kim

The Plane, The Plane

“Mom, Mom, you have to see what Pop Pop is doing!” I knew my dad was on the patio, so my heart skipped a beat thinking maybe he fell in the pool. My next thought was, “I hope he’s dressed.” Looking out on the patio, I saw my dad pointing the hose at the sky and saying “I’m going to get you.” I stood beside him and realized that he was firing the hose at a passing plane. I told him “We’re safe; the plane is one of ours. We are not under attack.” No amount of reassurance would stop him from wanting to protect us.   

Safety first

I was worried that he might trip over the hose and actually land in the pool or fall and get hurt. Unable to distract him, my husband ran to the store and bought a plastic toy rifle. He spent many hours shooting down enemy planes while sitting safely in a chair.  

Now, if you have never been in the position of trying to redirect someone experiencing delusions, this whole scenario may sound crazy to you. For us, it was heartbreaking to watch the fear on his face whenever we tried to orient him to time and place. These were the times when we struggled with how to help him.

My dad was not hurting anyone; using the gun gave him a reason not to hide in his room. It felt like a small victory to have him engaged in anything. The interest in this activity faded away quickly and never resurfaced. 

age-appropriate vs. stage of development

When I worked for agencies serving people with disabilities, we often struggled with the term “age-appropriate.” For holidays or birthdays, we always tried to buy items that were age-appropriate. There were many times that this was not possible, given the degree of cognitive impairment. Sometimes age-appropriate items could prove dangerous, be of no interest or require too much assistance to use. We often made decisions to buy gifts that could be used as independently as possible. More importantly,  these were items they enjoyed, even if it meant buying toys for an adult. 

I came to the realization that the term “age-appropriate” should not be our driving force; it was important to look at the stage of development. I faced this same dilemma with my dad. What could I get him that would not seem demeaning and would sustain his interest? One of the best things that we found was a stuffed animal. 

A stuffed toy might work.
This is the “dog” we got for Dad.

We had a small dog that my dad really enjoyed being around. The problem was that the dog did not always cooperate by sitting still on his lap. I found a stuffed animal that was almost identical in size and color to our dog. Many times we would walk into the family room to find Dad talking to this new dog. It seemed to comfort him to have this stuffed dog around when the real one was in hiding. It was a good decision, even if it seemed odd to others. Anything that kept dad engaged was a win.  

Dolls and Toys

Recently I came across this site that has some good examples of toys/activities that might help keep people with Alzheimer’s interacting and busy. 

Dolls can comfort

Many years before many Dad moved in I had a friend who was caring for a mom with Alzheimer’s. I used to listen in a detached way when she spoke about the dolls and stuffed animals she bought for her mother.  Part of me thought “why would you do that”, it seemed strange to me. I have since learned that “doll therapy” can be very useful for people with Alzheimer’s. If you would like more information here is a study that addresses the use of dolls with adults who have Alzheimer’s. Dolls can have a calming effect, they bring us back to a happier time and perhaps bring out that need some of us have to nurture. 

When my dad first moved in with us, I could buy him golf magazines, newspapers, he would watch TV and help with simple chores around the house. As the disease progressed, it became harder and harder to find things that would keep him engaged. I recently learned about something called a “fidget quilt.” These are small quilts or blankets that provide tactile and sensory stimulation. Here is a resource for making fidget quilts. I wish I had known about these earlier♠

Word of caution: If you’re looking to research toys for people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, DO NOT type in “adult toys”! These were definitely not the kind of toys I was looking to buy for my dad!

What about you?

Have you used dolls or other toys to help a loved one?

Are there activities that worked for you and maybe would help others?

Leave us a comment and let us know!

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