Since most TGB readers are older than 50 or 60, it struck me for the first time today, after many years of preparing this annual shopping list, that maybe we're buying for ourselves – that is, a few of us may have relatives in their eighties and nineties and friends too - but it must be that often we are buying for our elder contemporaries.
That brings me to one of the truest true things about getting old: we age at dramatically different rates so that sometimes 50- and 60-somethings have conditions and debilities that cause them to need a lot of help while some 80-somethings and older are, for example, caregivers to people much younger.
That's just to remind us that it is important to consider the physical condition of the people for whom we are finding gifts and doing so can make it easier to choose things they will like and use.
Each year when I do this, readers leave many additional suggestions in the comments and you are urged to do that again. Today, I have incorporated some of your good ideas from last year.
KEEP IN MIND (repeated from 2011)
I worry a lot about elders with small, fixed incomes so gifts of practical, everyday items that seem too mundane to be classified as gifts can be more welcome that you might think. They free up money for food, clothing and medical needs.
How about a basket – a big one – stuffed with a year's supply each of hand soap, bathroom tissue, Kleenex, sink and tub cleaner, batteries in several sizes, paper towels, trash bags, kitchen sponges, half a dozen new dish towels, etc. If there is a cat or two, include a year's supply of kitty litter or for dogs, a similar amount of pickup bags. Anyone on a tight budget resents how much these necessities cost.
“Stuff” becomes less important as we get older so be careful to find gifts, whether useful or entertaining, that will not complicate anyone's life. This is particularly true of elders who have downsized.
If you ask what they want, many elders will tell you, “Don't bother with me. I don't need anything.” Although that may be true sometimes, it's no fun. You might have to do some investigating, but there is always something another person will enjoy.
Before I get into category suggestions, there is one item I want to recommend for people you think will enjoy having it (maybe, like me, for yourself): A poster of An Elders Pledge. It is brand new and I just got mine back from the framer's on Saturday:
You may recall, as I mentioned earlier this year, the Pledge was written by the TGB Elderlaw Attorney, Orrin Onken. The poster is 12 inches by 36 inches and can be ordered from the Syracuse Cultural Workers website for $15 unframed plus shipping.
A word of caution: the website is slow to load so be patient and when I ordered mine, I did not get an emailed receipt. Nevertheless, it arrived in about week and I'm thrilled to have it on the wall next to my desk.
GIFTS OF LOVE AND TIME
Mobility is an issue for many elders. Some have given up driving and some can't walk as easily as they once did. So consider vouchers with the local taxi company.
Prepare a certificate for a certain number of trips with you doing the driving during the year to the supermarket and other shops your loved one likes. Throw in lunch or dinner when you do it and then help with toting everything into the house and storing it all.
Tickets to the local movie theater or maybe the local theater group with of course, the taxi vouchers to match. Better, include tickets for yourself and go together.
How about a promise of three or four dinners cooked at your loved one's home during the year. For people with mobility difficulties, having company on certain evenings is a wonderful event to look forward to especially when someone else is cooking and cleaning up.
If you are handy around the house, check to see what fixes are needed and commit to getting them done. Often there are little things that cost a fortune to hire a handyman, electrician, plumber, etc. to do so if you have the expertise it is a good thing for your elder.
Showing up regularly to do the laundry throughout the year can be a big help and it creates an opportunity for a regular visit and chat.
Getting and decorating a tree can be impossible for some elders. If you know that someone on your list would love to have a tree of his or her own, buy one and spend an evening helping to decorate it – or maybe put up some outdoor lights if they would be welcome.
Of course, you must help take it all down after the holidays.
Does someone you love need the lawn cut regularly? That's a good gift for spring and summer along with other gardening help in the season and washing windows after winter is done.
If someone who loves gardenng has downsized and no longer has a yard, consider some indoor gardening – flowers for color or, perhaps, an herb kit for the kitchen. Another reader suggestion from last year is bird seed and replacement bird feeders.
You get the idea. There are a lot of things in this category.
E-readers have become a popular item with people older than 40 or 50 so if your friend or relative doesn't have one, this can be a good idea. They must, of course, have a computer to download books and magazines and you must be prepared to show them how to do that.
Certainly throw in a couple of books with it that you know will be enjoyed and do point out the hundreds of free books on most download sites. I think this is a sensational idea for readers who have downsized and don't have the room anymore for bookshelves.
For other reading, you might consider a high-end magnifying glass. I realize it's kind of low tech, but it is an enormous help with small print that, unlike on computers, cannot be enlarged. I have one next to the bed where I read a lot and another on my desk which frequently gets carried to the kitchen for the small print on food packages.
I could go on with a long list but instead I'm going to send you over to Laurie Orlov's excellent overview of 2012 Tech Gifts for Seniors. Since 2008, Ms. Orlov as been running the website Aging in Place Technology Watch and I don't believe there is anything she doesn't know about elders and technology.
Oh wait – another technology gift – batteries, lots and lots of batteries for all the things we have nowadays that need them.
Last year, a reader suggested a basket of personal items:
”How about a basket of favorite skin products, lotions, hand creams, foot creams, sunscreen,” wrote Celia. “Look about when you visit and see what they use, men too, my Dad had the driest skin.”
Kathi Williams suggested flashlights which is a terrific suggestion for people who live in areas where the power is known to go out. Several flashlights for various rooms is a good idea.
Carol from CO suggested gift certificates for massages. A great idea; just be sure travel to and from is arranged if necessary.
See if your friend or relative has a particular kind of clothing that needs renewing – a favorite style of robe, slippers, sweaters, etc.
For women, a favorite cologne or perfume – an item that may seem to expensive an indulgence on a small income.
SAFETY AND HOME
Last year, a reader mentioned night lights. Take a look around next time you visit and see if they may be needed. There are simple ones and playful, fantastical ones that are fun.
If an elder lives alone, consider a personal medical emergency service. Anyone, no matter how active and vital, can find themselves in need of emergency help with no telephone in reach.
A purchase of one of these alert gizmos with the service contract paid for each year can be a good peace-of-mind gift. A large number of companies provide this service and you should check them out thoroughly and get recommendations before subscribing.
Also, installing grab bars in the bathroom is a good safety idea that is likely to be appreciated.
Last year, a couple of people mentioned a collection of greeting cards for a variety of occasions and don't forget the postage stamps to go with them.
If you can afford it, you could hire a cleaning service for once a month or if that's too expensive, maybe one big cleaning event for spring.
If you are giving practical gifts or home-made certificates for trips to stores or the movies or taxi vouchers, be sure to include a token physical gift, something to unwrap. It doesn't need to cost much: a scented candle, a favorite candy, a pretty scarf, a bottle of wine.
Somehow, choosing gifts for elders has gotten a reputation for being difficult. It doesn't need to be and these should give you a good starting place.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chuck Nyren: A Friend Passed Away