Happy Thanksgiving 2007
Thought Crime Bill H.R.1955 is Now S.1959

Holiday Gifts for Elders

Today is called, appropriately, “Black Friday” – the biggest shopping day of the year when crazed people wielding little rectangles of plastic get out of bed at 3AM to inaugurate the spending frenzy that is the holiday season.

If, like me, crowds are anathema to you, this is a good day to stay home and make your holiday shopping list. Many people think elders are hard to shop for. Don’t you believe it. Elders are just people with a few more wrinkles and, sometimes, a little more wisdom than younger people about accumulating stuff. So you may need to be more thoughtful in what you choose for them.

Also, elders in your life may have downsized – moved into smaller living quarters, apartments, retirement communities or assisted living facilities where there isn’t much room for large 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, utilities and other costs 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 to get you started:

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.

Most elders are unlikely to take up text messaging in their old age and those tiny buttons on cell phones are hard to wield if you have arthritis or fading eye sight. A Jitterbug cell phone with large buttons and no other electronic functions would make a fine gift together a year’s subscription. (And don’t forget to renew it next year.)

Did you know that 80 percent of elders live independently until they die? One way to help them do that, especially if they live alone, are medical alert devices, available from several companies, that notify an emergency service with one touch of a button – a practical gift that may save a loved one’s life.

Eyesight often dims with age. For readers, consider a large-print version of a book they would enjoy. Or a pre-paid card for the nearest book shop. 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.

I realize it’s a big-ticket item, but if you can afford it, the Wii entertainment system is becoming a favorite with elders at retirement communities and at home. With it, elders can go bowling in their own homes, play tennis and a lot of other games. Besides the fun, it gets them on their feet and moving around – exercise without the boredom.

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 trim their toenails.

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 made in Europe that is hard to find. Two friends know this and starting long before I entered the realm of elderhood, 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 (66) 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.

A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard would appreciate a Plant- or Flower-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. that don’t need greasing and can be cleaned easily without scrubbing.

A supply of a favorite beverage could be welcome. Over the years, I developed a taste for good port – not the cheap stuff, the real thing from the best vintners in Portugal - that even when I was still working was a luxury. A glass in the evening now and then while reading with the cat on my lap is one of my small pleasures and two bottles go a long way. Perhaps your elder has a taste for a similar indulgence.

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 motor skills and 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.

When I ran this story last year, several commenters mentioned the gift of time. When we stop working, there is not the daily interaction and camaraderie with co-workers and some people can’t get out and about as easily as in the past, so regular visits are a precious gift.

You could make some of the visits into events: dinner at your elder’s home – you bring all the fixings and do the cooking; bring the grandkids on a Saturday with all the ingredients to spend the day baking and decorating cookies with grandma. Be sure you do the clean up afterwards. In the fall, how about a daytrip for leaf peeping with a stop for lunch or dinner at a wonderful country inn.

These ideas don’t begin to cover all the possibilities, but I think they should give you a place to start. And when giving such things as subscriptions to magazines, monthly flower clubs, a cleaning service, or promises of time, 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.

[Now, after all that, Linda Davis has given us an appropriate story at The Elder Storytelling Place today titled A Text Message to Grandma.]


I really like how this post loosens up the "what should I give them for Christmas" cramps. Really, you can use it for any age group. Nevertheless, I wanted to share a few gifts that my mother gave to my grandmother and now I am giving to my mother-in-law and mother:

1. For singles who are not particularly practical, you can do an inspection of the home and make it more safe (e.g., install a cordless telephone on each floor of their house, install stable towel racks and/or handles in bathroom and kitchen, install better lighting).

2. I have this Romanian friend who is a cosmetician. She does the most amazing facials. My mother loves to go for a facial because not only does her skin look healthier and taunter, but she luxuriates in the kind and gentle hands touching her face. Giving a gift certificate for a massage, or facial is nice for those who crave a bit of physical touch.

3. Give a gift of a date to go to a matinée of an opera or concert, or a book or poetry reading.

A gift of your time is always welcome. Not all gifts have to be costly. A box of greeting cards (nice ones, of course) is another welcome gift. A subscription to a 'fruit of the month' club is another thought.
Personally, I would love an outing to a tea room or to a really nice restaurant --
someplace to make you feel really elegant.

Is there something that older people can "program" to remind them of things, like doctor appointments and upcoming events? I know there are Blackberries but they're too complicated. Where I live, forgetfulness is the big problem!


Ronni: as expected a wonderful, timely message full of great ideas. If I knew the brand, you'd be sure to get that port refilled for the year:):):). But the best suggestion (especially for the really older, elder like my mom, age 92) is the gift of time. My mom spends Sunday afternoons with us watching the NFL & her favorite team. She frequently asks us "what happened?", but it's ok. We cheer & yell at the refs & give the quarterback hell & then we have pie & coffee whether it was a win or a loss. When I take her back to her apt. she always tells me she had a wonderful afternoon & knows she will sleep well. We also have a weekly shopping date & a monthly review of her bank statements & checking account.......always in order. The other things that she looks for are calls from the grandchildren & mail with lots of pics of the little great-grandchildren. The other thing is home cookin'!! My DS & I make sure to cook enough for her to get the "leftovers"........she doesn't like anyone to do anything extra, just for her so we have to be very careful about how & what we do for her. Her independence is so important to her. Perhaps your comments will expand our giftgiving to others on this "aging" journey. There's bound to be someone around who's older than us:):). Dee

Another welcome gift for the older writer is computer paper and ink cartridges. My husband goes through them at a terrific rate, so they'll certainly be appreciated.

Great idea for a post, Ronni.

Thanks for the practical ideas. We all should remember that often it is the little things that mean the most.

What a wonderful and practical list you've given us, Ronni.
One more thing to consider....a subscription to Sirius Radio. I have it and just LOVE listening to channels like "Siriusly Sinatra".....all the old, great, hits by Blue Eyes. Sirius has all the wonderful music from yesteryear...in addition to the current tunes.


Not to mention my former husband, Alex Bennett, who has a show on Sirius - "Sirius Left" - on Channel 146 from 9AM to noon ET.

I think we give the gift of time every day plus all those other things too. What I need are ideas for a gift for friends in nursing homes with no memories.

Oh Ronni, you've really depressed me now. I get the impression that your ideas are aimed at people in their 80's but I can already identify with the knee problems, large print books, not reaching your feet so going for a pedicure etc and I've got another 20 years to go. . .Heeeeelp!

Great ideas, thanks for a very helpful post.

Another thought...
If the "elder" is living on a fixed income, pay one of their utility bills. This leaves them w/ some money for something special.

Well done!

Commenting on it in my blog this morning: "Ronni doesn't mention giving elders a shopping spree via the internet. Two of our kids periodically send us gift certificates at Amazon which is more fun than you can imagine. (And we don't have to mess with black Friday!)"


I have been firmly planted here at home alllllll day only poking my head out to grab the mail. Wild horses couldn't drag me out. My idea of Christnas shopping is eBay or Barnes & Noble.com -- the grandsons get a box of books and games from granny and I don't even have to ship them! I just don't shop much anymore.

I love this post. I always try to send good wine.

Nursing Home Gift Ideas
Mom spent six years in a nursing home. Here's some ideas:
If you plan on visiting with your friend/relative, consider a simple puzzle (8 to 10 pieces) that you can help them put together. A little toy piano if they were ever musical. Picture books for children that aren't childish in theme are great; you can read (or the person can read it to you). Here's a couple of titles: Brother EAgle, Sister Sky (paintings, Susan Jeffers); The Old Woman Who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant; Little Baa, by Kim Lewis (a mother and child story) Dogs' Night, by Meredith Hooper; The EAgle & the WRen, by Jane Goodall. You'll find more in the kids' section of your bookstore.
For "leave-behind' gifts: My mother was ecstatic one time over a very soft stuffed animal. Really warm open-toed slippers that are adjustable for old feet. The Alzheimer's store at alzstore.com has a lot of ideas, too.
If you want to bring flowers, bring cut flowers in a vase- nothing more depressing than dead plants. A box of candy or treats for the staff, with a note thanking them for the care of your loved one (whether or not it's true, it'll help to make it more true.) And, if you're a visiting friend, let the family know you're going to visit or that you did visit; it's a gift to the family, too.

I have an elderly mother with few needs or wants and a friend in a nursing home, both low income. Both love the gift of food... always useful whether a gift cert to a restaurant or grocery store or a gift bag full of cookies, crackers and other goodies--a special treat for those in nursing homes. For elders who can get up and out, paid-for salon treatments are a great gift, too. Hey, for our other relatives who have everything they really need or want, these make great gifts, too!

What a great list of ideas for future gifts for the elderly in your life. My husband's Aunt Janet passed four months ago. My husband and I sent her meals at least two times a week.
It started by accident when we sent something home to her. She was so grateful for the meal, we began making an extra serving every time we cooked. We did this for over four years. She died at 93 and we think we extended her will to live with the food and treats
sent weekly.

Here's hoping other families start the same tradition, like us, never realizing how important this act of kindness can be. Doing this made us feel pretty good as well.

Our best,
Dorothy from grammology

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