Toronto Star Interview with Alexis Lodge Executive Director

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A warm and fuzzy bear, a squishy ball, a song of love, a tender touch. Everyone - from kids with disabilities to adults with dementia - loves things that appeal to the senses at Christmas.

If you've got someone with special needs on your gift list, there's a world of high-tech products out there, such as electronic talking dictionaries that can help kids with learning disabilities. But simply filling a stocking with new and wonderful textures and shapes can bring hours of joy. And using your ingenuity can help keep things simple and affordable.

At Alexis Lodge, a group retirement home whose residents cope with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia, "music is a big part of our lives," says administrator Christiana Egi.

"Old songs that bring back memories are always welcome," says Egi. But other appeals to the senses may be even simpler.

Some who used to sew, for example, might like the feel of a material that evokes a familiar texture or colour.

Someone who once worked with tools might find comfort in the shape and feel of a piece of wood.

Memory books, pictures of flowers, birds or animals, a little plant in a little pot - all these things can bring comfort, says Egi. And a simple heating pad to soothe a sore shoulder can mitigate the agitation that comes with pain.

Egi also suggests speaking with caregivers to find out what kind of services might be appreciated.

Most service suppliers will be happy to make up gift certificates. At the Victorian Order of Nurses in Halton, for example, there's a variety to choose from.

A voucher for the foot care clinic is $25. In-home foot care is $35. For $45, you could give a ticket to the group's fundraising chocolate lovers' Sunday brunch on Feb. 13. A ticket to the March 10 Victorian high tea is $25.

Or you could simply give a card saying you have made a donation in the person's name. For more information, call 905-827-8800.

For someone who is blind or has low vision, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind suggests a talking watch or alarm clock, large-print playing cards, address books or calendars, UV-blocking sunglasses, a magnifier or a liquid-level indicator. All these items and more are available through local CNIB offices. For more info, call 416-486-2500 or visit 1929 Bayview Ave.

One website specializing in products for both adults and children with special needs is The company says orders received by Dec. 10 will be delivered in time for Christmas. Flaghouse products include "Teddy Warm Heart," a fuzzy bear that stays warm for up to four hours and emits the soothing scent of lavender ($39.95 U.S.) and little plastic animals with vibrating feet that deliver massages ($19.95 U.S.).

Other sites worth checking are and, which includes a talking dictionary and spell corrector ($49.95 U.S.), a great tool for some kids with learning difficulties.

But sometimes, it's the simple things that are best.

At the Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre, child life specialist Marusia Heney says a children's stocking filled with a world of sensory experiences can be easy and affordable to put together.

Story books with fuzzy pages, a soft paintbrush to tickle the toes, colourful pom-poms, touchable bubbles and smelly markers are all popular, Heney says.

And if you use a bit of ingenuity, a little bit of money can go a long way.

Some of the most interesting and reasonable priced touchy-feely things, for example, can be found in pet stores.

Think about it. The soft or crinkly toys on display are tailor- made to appeal to the two-legged shoppers that control the purse strings. So go ahead and have a ball.

Credit: Toronto Star

Article By: Helen Henderson

Word count: 652

(Copyright (c) 2004 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved. )