ELDER MUSIC: Frank Sinatra
Hope Fades Away

Gifts For Elders

I am frequently asked to name good gifts for elders at Christmas and other times of the year. Since most of us at this blog are old folks ourselves, you would think there are ready answers, but the questions still arrive.

A version of this post was published in 2006, and a lot of it still holds, but I've made some additions and changes.

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 or won’t unnecessarily complicate their lives and most of all, 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 take up space and they’re just one more thing that needs dusting.

Also, consider that many elders are on fixed incomes. We are entering our second year without a cost-of-living increase to Social Security while inflation for goods and services elders spend more on than younger people continues. So gifts that might seem too ordinary and mundane for a holiday can fill an important hole in elders' lives.

Here are some ideas:

Eyesight sometimes 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.

This year, I am also recommending a Kindle or other e-reader. Kindle seems to have the clearest and easiest-to-read text and Kindle editions are cheaper to buy than hardcover books. Also, there are thousands of classics available for free or as little as 99 cents in the Kindle store.

Movie buffs might like a year’s prepaid membership to Netflix. Or even better now that Netflix is streaming movies via television, you could equip an elder's set for this and give them a year's subscription. Or, if the old-fashioned way makes more sense, a small collection of DVDs starring a favorite actor or built around a theme or genre they like might be welcome. Or a dozen pre-paid tickets to the local movie theater.

If your budget allows, a Wii could be a fun gift. At a retirement community I visited not long ago, it was the most popular equipment in the common area and it has the advantage of getting people out of their chairs and moving around.

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 can be 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 (69) and older, often settled on a particular fragrance when they were young and have used it all their lives. The price of mine is now so high that I 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 nearly 90 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.

Fresh fruits and vegetables get more expensive every day. For low-income elders, a fruit-of-the-month club would be both fun to recceive and good for their health.

A word of caution about practical gifts: there are endless old jokes and cartoons about husbands giving their wives washing machines for their birthdays or anniversaries – practical, but hardly romantic or fun. An elder in your life may need or have trouble affording some safety equipment, incontinence supplies or a new cane, but it's better to help provide those needs during the year and find something for Christmas that will improve their lives and delight them.

A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard might appreciate a Plant-of-the-Month membership or a kitchen herb garden. There is little upkeep and a continuous supply of nature’s color in the house.

If you're a blogger and have written stories about your childhood and your parents, you could print them out and make a book for a parent. If you're not a blogger or time is too short until Christmas, you could start such a project now for next year.

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

For do-it-yourselfers, check to see if there are repairs needed around the elder's home and commit to getting them fixed as soon as possible.

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 some 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 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.

I'll bet you have a bunch of other suggestions.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kathleen Noble: The Day "Joe" Almost Got in Woman Trouble


A new Kindle for readers. A nice Amazon gift certificate for most any elder.

All good ideas, Ronni. I really like getting gift cards for massages and facials or mani/pedicures. And of course, books (or gift cards for them) are always appreciated. No trinkets here, please (even though I do collect frogs...lol)

My grandma only had $85 a month to live on after my grandpa's death. Mother used to give her food...which I got to wrap in old shoe boxes. She was too fragile to walk to the Piggly Wiggly instead using the expensive corner store. These canned foods allowed her to have some of her favorites easily accessible without having to go out to get them.

Me: Oh, gift certificates for books. Always.

I like your suggestion of a book of stories. Another idea (even if you're not a blogger) is to scan old photos and put together a picture book/album from one of the commercial sites on the Internet. There are many themes you could follow -- Christmases past, childhood, etc. These albums could later become conversation starters with the elder, when the memories start to fade (as they often do). Annie

I'd like to get an electronic reader that can accept downloads from the Public Library. These are free books. I recently read a piece about the newest NOOK reader that mentioned this option.

Very good suggestions all. I gave my mother the smaller version of the Fruit of the month club and didn't realize in the fine print it states that they will use a substitute fruit if the selected month's fruit is not available. My mom received apples for many months. She was disappointed as was I.

We have bird feeders and always appreciate bird seed. Sneak a look at their current supply to see what they use. Also, if it comes in heavy bags try to find a way to break it down; we put ours in empty plastic kitty litter containers.

If you have a person on your gift list who has started painting...I took a watercolor class about a year ago and the pads of paper can get expensive. For those using oils, buy canvasses.

Hobby magazines.

Donations for causes close to the person's heart [A niece gave a Christmas donation in our name to the animal shelter where we adopted one of our dogs.]

Gift certificates toward a class at a nearby college.

We love DVDs of golden oldie shows: Father Knows Best, Ozzie & Harriet, Andy Griffith. And some older movies.

There is so much if you just pay attention.

Ooops, almost forgot.

We just bought my sister-in-law a digital photo album so she can show even MORE pictures of her grandsons to her friends. By Christmas day we will have pictures picked out and ready to load.

I recently asked a elder friend what he wanted for Christmas. His answer is another good one seldom thought of; a back scratcher and a long handled bath bush. I found them at Bed Bath and Beyond.

A lighted magnifying glass is another idea.

What a wonderful list of suggestions. I would add another one. I have a couple of very elder friends who no longer can drive. I buy them taxi vouchers so that they can take a cab to wherever they want to go. In SF, since we really are a small city, it's a very practical solution.

What a great column. How and where do you find all this stuff to write about? It all continues to amaze me as I watch it continue to flow, unabated, generous and brilliant.

Ronni, you are a phenomenon.

Old or young, I think consumable gifts are best. Last year my parents said we didn't need to buy them any more gifts. I told them they couldn't mandate gift giving, even to their own children! I tend to give food or wine of the month or services.

I'd love a backscratcher too. I like to give gift certificates to a favorite coffee shop, movie tickets, tickets to a concert, or a calling card for those on limited budgets and with faraway friends and family.

That is a really good reminder regarding "...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..." for when I have wanted to give tickets or an donation or the like. Yes, a little something to open. Lovely.

Thank you Ronni. I think you should submit a piece like this to AARP or an over 50 Magazine for next year!

How about a "Gift card for I will pick you up and we will "do lunch"( if the elder lives nearby.)

This elder loves the Kindle idea best.

I can download free library books into the Nook, but not the Kindle. So I bought a Nook because I use the library a lot.

A gift certificate (good for 3 months) to a European delicacy goodies store, a store where you can wander around after Christmas and choose your teas, jams, coffees, sauces, cookies nice and calm.

Mom loves this gift.

Taxi vouchers. Some seniors are fearful about waiting on or taking the bus.

Back scratcher. I brought one home from Malaysia, use it every day. Oooooooh. Great gift. Get one in Chinatown.

They never break.

Give a subscription to a newspaper or favorite magazine.

Gift certificate from Tim Horton's (coffee, donuts, etc.)

Gift certificate you promise to do something for them, like weed their garden, paint a room, etc.

Gift certificate for a course in some activity they love, but can't afford the tuition.

Tickets to the opera, a play, a musical.

A motorized scooter.

A small radio to put under their pillow when/if they can't sleep at night. My mom has one. Loves it. She listens to talk radio at night.

A book light, one that you clip on the book so you can read in bed without bothering your spouse, if you have one- a spouse, that is.

A remote control fart machine- to be used in long lineups at the airport, grocery, big box stores. Use your imagination.

A scrapbook story of a senior's life, including photos, their history, early aspirations, foods they love, recipes, favorite places. Tons of other ideas.

This could take months to complete during visits, but worth it.(Start one for next year.)

Promise to take a senior grocery shopping, line dancing or to a writing group, once a week.

Promise to shovel senior's sidewalk all winter.

Create a herb garden for a senior, using a found object such as a discarded punch bowl.

Promise to accompany a senior to their doctor, bank, grocery shopping, etc.

A snuggie blanket for watching television or hiding their remote control fart machine, until that perfect moment, when some bonehead tries to switch the channel.

How about a gift card to a pharmacy? When I go to get my scrips refilled, I always wind up getting other things there. You know that syndrome, don't you? "While I'm here I might as well get . . . and 20 bucks later on top of your scrips' cost you can go home.

Great ideas, all. I'd add crossword puzzle or word find books with mechanical pencil or a fresh deck of cards. If she can send email she can play Scrabble on-line... and we all know how valuable these interweb connections can be, don't we?

You have a good and kind heart, Ronni. I like being in your world.

Love all the suggestions. I don't have anybody nearby to take me to lunch or shovel the sidewalk, but I can dream! My favorite gifts would be magazine subs or best of all, gift cards--to a restaurant or bookstore.

Possumlady, I used to live near you and love animals. Miss your blog. Is there any way to look you up on Facebook?

So many great suggestions. Along with movies and books, you can buy DVDs of old radio programs from The Shadow and Gang Busters to The Bickersons and Hopalong Cassidy at radiospirits.com. Some have as many as 20 programs or 8-10 hours of listening for $20-$40.

Thanks Ronni.

I had to chuckle a bit at the suggestions about the "back-scratcher"!

Just last week I was getting my hair cut and for no reason whatsoever I just blurted out to the lady who does my hair, "Having lived alone for almost thirty years, you know what I would like even more than sex?" She laughed but was at a loss for words. I then said, "A good back-scratching!" She suggested a massage parlor. I then laughed and said, "No, I said I needed a back-scratching!"

Don't have a clue why I needed to share that story but nevertheless.

If you can't find a good back-scratcher, may I suggest buying them a nice spatula. That's what I use and it is great. You just need to remember not to use it to turn your eggs!

Thanks Ronni - all great suggestions - particularly like the more intangible ones! When receiving gifts - I am so pleased when they save me physical effort! (and it's hard to ask for those things as I still want to be thought of as independent!) I am fortunate to have a niece and nephew who live nearby and year-round are SO thoughtful about things that most people wouldn't think about - when it snows (which in Montana can be QUITE frequent)I find my driveway plowed when I wake up - which means my nephew added an hour to his already early morning routine before work... when it rains, my porch chairs suddenly end-up covered. My trash is gone, my steps are swept! Like magic! So if the economy means it's harder to find gifts to buy - remember we all have gifts of thoughtfulness to give that don't cost a dime!

yeah, i believe my husband keeps me around to scratch his back!
lots of good ideas ronnie.

As always, this is the BEST compilation ANYWHERE. Someone should PAY you for this service! Ha. Plus all the ideas in the comments. Thanks!!

My Mom is a one-fragrance person--Jean Nate--so i stole a wee bit of her "pour le bain" to put into homemade soaps. Hobby Lobby and Michaels both have soapmaking ingredients--and it's so easy to make. And with the 40%-off coupons i get all the time, a 5-lb bag of soap costs around $9.

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