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Gifts For Elders on Your List

[This was originally published in slightly different form at Blogher.]

When asked what they might want, elders frequently say, “Oh, don’t bother with me. I don’t need anything.” Pshaw. Everyone wants something. But with elders, you might need to do some investigative work.

One of the characteristics of many elders is a loss of interest in “stuff.” In fact, some spend a great deal of time in later years cleaning out a lifetime accumulation of clutter in their homes to simplify their lives. Others may have moved to smaller living quarters – apartments, retirement communities or assisted living facilities, where there isn’t space for new acquisitions.

So it is important in choosing gifts for elders to find something that is useful, needed, won’t unnecessarily complicate their lives and of course, is something they will enjoy. Unless an elder on your list is a passionate collector of, for example, ceramic frogs, tchotchkes are not good choices. They’re just one more thing that needs dusting.

Also, consider that many elders are on fixed incomes. Annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits are almost always offset (and more) by increases in Medicare and other premiums which are not optional expenditures. So gifts that might seem too ordinary and mundane for a holiday can fill an important hole in an elder’s life.

Here are some ideas:

Eyesight often dims with age. For readers, consider a large-print version of a book they would enjoy. Or a year’s subscription to the large-print edition, if there is one, of the local newspaper.

Even without large-print available, subscriptions to favorite magazines could be welcome.

Movie buffs might like a year’s prepaid membership to Netflix. Or a small collection of DVDs starring a favorite actor or built around a theme or genre they like. Or a dozen pre-paid tickets to the local movie theater.

For a woman, a monthly prepaid visit at a salon for haircut and manicure. It’s good to include a pedicure too for elders who have trouble bending over to do it themselves.

Find out if your elder likes a particular kind of clothing that needs regular renewing. I have a fondness for a specific brand of flannel nightgown that is hard to find. Two friends know this and starting long before I entered the realm of elderhood, they have kept me supplied over the years.

Perfume and cologne fall into this category too. It doesn’t appear to be so common now, but people of my age (65) and older, often settled on a particular scent when we were young and have used it all our lives. The price of mine is now so high that I often feel it is an unwarranted extravagance, so it is always a welcome gift.

If an elder you know has had to give up driving, consider a voucher for a local car or taxi service. Even better, if you have the time, make up a certificate promising a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the supermarket or a monthly ride to the local mall.

My great aunt Edith, who lived to be 89, told me how she, in her early 80s then, had scrubbed the kitchen floor one day and then couldn’t push herself up off her hands and knees. She laughed when I suggested to her that there is now this newfangled invention – a mop with a long pole attached – but she said they didn’t get the floor as clean as she wanted.

Thereafter, a cleaning service was hired. Elders often won’t admit they can no longer do common, everyday chores because they don’t want to be a burden to others. So you could promise a weekly cleaning or hire a biweekly service to come in – and maybe do the laundry too.

A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard would appreciate a Plant-of-the-Month membership. There’s no upkeep, and there is a continuous supply of nature’s color in the house.

Get your child or children to do a special drawing for grandma or grandpa and present it already framed for hanging on the wall.

For cooks and bakers among the elders in your life, there are new, silicon pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc. recently in stores that don’t need greasing and can be cleaned easily without scrubbing.

If an elder in your life uses a computer and the internet, check to see if they might need a large-key keyboard. Such ailments as arthritis and the natural decline of feeling in fingers can make normal-sized keyboards difficult for elders to use. You could also pay for a year’s broadband connection.

iPods and digital cameras are marketed so relentlessly to younger people that it is easy to forget elders can enjoy them too. A camera can give an elder a reason for a daily walk they might not otherwise take. You could give an iPod already filled with music you know your elder likes.

Unless your elders are sufficiently geeky on their own, be sure to make time soon after Christmas to help them learn how to use electronic gifts.

These ideas don’t begin to cover all the possibilities, but I think they should give you a place to start thinking. And when giving such things as subscriptions to magazines, monthly flower clubs, a cleaning service, etc. that are only a piece of paper, be sure to include a token gift – a box of candy, a bottle of wine, a scented candle. Even after 65, 70 and more years, it’s still fun to tear open packages with the family.


OK then. What Septuagent needs is for someone to design and manufacture a gadget for pushing pills out of blister packs. That would fulfil a "need" wouldn't it ?

Septuagent: I think that's a great idea for Millie Garfield's next "I Can't Open It" video.

Ever thoughtful enlighten us so much!Thanks....

Some great ideas here. Unfortunately, I'm running out of older-than-me recipients so I guess this is going to be used for my own wish list!

I just read a book that all people of age should read. It would make a great present for the holidays. I am giving away four myself. Herb's First 100 Years by Randy Perkins is a wonderful story. It is heartwarming and renewed my faith in people. Everyone should read this book.

I always tell my kids that what I really want from them is time. I think many elders might just want that afternoon visit every other month!

I give my 80 year old girlfriend special soaps and treats she can eat because she hates things hanging around.

ronni, I'd love any of the things you suggested. But some things you didn't mention are in bad tast. Things like self-help books on dealing with latter years. That is no different than giving an obese person a diet guide. My elderly friend received such a gift from her daughter and she asked me to take it, read it, burn it, do whatever I wanted with it. And her face was somber and her eyes were wet when she did so. I think she felt it was a personal criticism of how she chose to live and yet I expect her daughter felt it was a special well-chosen gift.

Wonderful ideas, Ronnie. I'm always trying to think of something my mother-in-law would enjoy. The manicure and pedicure is a great idea that I would mind having, myself.

I absolutely LOVE these suggestions. I'm going to post a link to them on my page. I'm also going to send the list to my children, so they can get a head start on shopping.

One gift my son often gets me for Christmas is a gift card for Barnes & Noble. That's fun, since I can use it for something I want, but don't actually need.

Mini-extravagances are great, too. Speciality coffees, or teas, if preferred. Gift coupons for local restaurants or theaters are fine. How about an extra-soft pair of socks - so nice to put on after a hard day. A reading lamp, with low-energy, high-output light.

Know your elder - if they are often cold, then sweaters, fur-lined gloves, and such are welcome. If, OTOH, he or she is often overheated, skip those items.

These are great suggestions no matter how old you are! I would love any of these gifts!

As an elder, I would love to be invited for a home cooked meal once a month. I no longer have the energy at the end of the day to prepare a nourishing repast. A visit that is more than a pop-in- and-out would be nice, too. Some things that mean the most don't cost money. The gift of time is doubly inportant for those who have too much of it. (That's not me, by the way.)

For years I didn't give hints about gifts. It seemed to me that those nearest and dearest to one should know intuitively what to buy.

Now, older and wiser, I am responding to those "What would you like for Christmas?" questions.

Bird seed for my outdoor feeders. Inexpensive bottles of white wine (list of ones I like is posted prominantly on the fridge).

Oh, and about snow shoveling...also appreciated. Last winter a neighbor had to work and his wife had wrist surgery the same time we had a major snow. All the neighbors got together and did their shoveling.

These are great ideas! Thanks.

Thank you! Some of these things would also make great gifts for anyone on your list.

Gift coupons for restaurants are nice. Even better, take the person out. Pick a place neither of you have gone before. Then it's like you're both opening a gift.

Another thing I have done is collect pictures throughout the year from my digital camera, upload it to an online photo processor and have made a calendar with family pictures for each month. Not only for older folks, but for families as well! Lasts all year!

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