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Holiday Gifts for Elders

The gift-giving holidays are fast approaching and if you did not max out your shopping budget on black Friday and cyber Monday, this is annual TGB list of gift ideas for old people might be useful.

Last year you, dear readers, provided many – I do mean MANY – more ideas than what I suggested and they were terrific. I'm expecting the same from you this year so I'll start off with some thoughts of my own and you can follow up below. But first, some important considerations:

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.

When my friends and I were still quite young, we would often give this gift to newlyweds and they loved it. 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.

Here are some specific suggestions.

Last year, I recommended a Kindle and I am even more behind e-readers this year. The text can be enlarged with one click, and the Kindle, along with the Nook but not the iPad and new Kindle Fire, has a non-glare screen so it's easy to read in any light.

The simplest Kindle book reader now costs only $79. I've found over the past year that many publishers set the prices of Kindle editions higher than I think is fair. But increasing numbers of public libraries have e-reader versions to borrow. Plus, there are still thousands of out-of-copyright classics for the Kindle that are free or as inexpensive as 99 cents. I'm not sure if those are available for the Nook.

If there is someone on your list who is technophobic but you think would enjoy the internet if it were not so daunting for a newbie, there are two new-ish computers – the Wow Computer and the Telikin – designed to ease elders into the club.

They are large-monitor, touch-screen based, need no additional software and provide email, video chat, calendar, photo sharing, games and web browsing in a easy-to-learn interface that, they both say, can be up and running in under five minutes.

My caveats are these: I have never tried either one so I cannot recommend them necessarily, and the price seems outrageously high at $1199 although both are currently on sale for $999. (No Herman Cain jokes, please.) Still, they may be useful for some elders.

Other electronics you might consider are large-key keyboards for people afflicted with arthritis, iPods already filled with favorite music, electronic photo albums, digital cameras, even a Wii for games and exercise. Or pay for a TV cable or broadband connection for year.

As we discussed earlier this week, giving up driving is a terrible prospect and there are good gifts you can consider for people who have had to cross that Rubicon.

Vouchers for a local taxi or transportation service.

Prepaid movie tickets with the round-trip taxi vouchers to go with them.

Print up your own certificates for trips to the grocery on a regular schedule or occasional runs to specialty food shops that are out of the way.

Tickets to an upcoming concert or a play or any event you know your elder will enjoy with, of course, your intention to accompany them.

This stuff is endless. A promise for a summer weekend trip to the beach or a day every three months at the mall with lunch included and plenty of rest time if needed.

Depending on family interests, personal certificates for evenings at the elders' home with dinner brought in and an evening of Yahtzee or Monopoly or Wii or whatever the kids can enjoy with grandma or grandpa.

When people are retired from the workplace, when the kids are grown and gone, when old friends have moved away or died and it's not easy to get around, the gifts of time and mobility are precious things.

But keep uppermost in your mind that all these kinds of promises must be kept. Even when you are capable of getting out on your own, it is a huge disappointment when people do not follow through with the time they have promised. I know (and don't ask).

Some repeats from 2010:

For a woman, quarterly 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 nightgowns 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 (70) 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.

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.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer or have expertise in carpentry, plumbing, electricity, etc., check to see if there are repairs needed around the elder's home and commit to getting them fixed as soon as possible. I've been putting off having some non-working electrical outlets fixed because the price of electricians is frightening and there's always something else that needs paying for. I wish I had an electrician friend who could diagnose the problem if not fix it.

If an elder lives alone and you are concerned about their safety, 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 thoroughly before subscribing. Here is a TGB story from three years ago that will get you started on your homework.

Please, when you give practical items or services or vouchers and certificates to be used later, be sure to include a token physical gift. It doesn't need to cost much, a scented candle, a box of candy, a bottle of wine – because it's fun at any age to tear open packages.

Now it's your turn. What are your suggestions for elder gifts? Don't worry if you are repeating from last year. We can all use the reminders and there are new readers too.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Ann Hard: Living in the Moment – Part 3


Haven't even finished your "list" but I want to say, what wonderful gift ideas! Looks like you've really thought this out and have covered all sorts of needs/wants.
Thank you, Ronnie.

For bird watchers, bird seed...and possibly some replacement feeders, if needed.

Night lights. The plain ones or the fancy ones that may even match a hobby (quilt square patterns) or collection (lighthouse designs) or interest (specific dog or cat breeds).

A bottle of wine.


Food from "the old country". We have local stores that specialize in Polish, Greek, Indian, and Chinese groceries and fancy foods.

A digital photo frame. Load up family and friends' photographs ready to go.

An afternoon with family photo albums. Take the time to ID all the people (write it on the back) and places in the older family pictures and listen (and maybe write down) the stories that go with them.

The new battery-powered flickering candles.

All of the above & how about doing the laundry? My 96 year old mom whose becoming more frail as I write, really appreciates when someone in the family does her laundry. Fortunately, we have a big family & she's a dear & easy to deal with. I find that the "old" older, elders need help with things like this & they really appreciate the help. Dee

My husband and I love getting gift cards to various restaurants in our area.

Just the usual ones,Ruby Tuesday or Olive Garden. We go in the late afternoon (A little like the Seinfelds, but not 2:30!). Sort of like a combination lunch/dinner.

We have a friend who is alone and we give her a gift card to a restaurant that she loves, with the promise of picking her up and going with her. So, she has both company and a ride.

Lovely ideas.

My mother gave my grandma food. Good foodstuff that she wouldn't buy for herself on her 85 a month income minus the 55 a month rent. Cans and dried food that would carry her through a long time. All were packaged in shoe box sized boxes that I got too wrap.

Today perhaps that's an insensitive gift, but it was a joy for the granddaughter to wrap for this most beloved grandmother.

I just thought of one because I need it and plan to suggest it to my daughters today! Offer to hem or mend a garment, or, in my case, cover a pillow with a beloved sweatshirt too dear to part with. These gnarled fingers can't sew anymore, but the need to mend goes on.

I know what I would love so others might,too. Elders have trouble with strenuous chores so a gift of washing windows, vacuuming and yard work would all be much appreciated.

My 95 year old father and his companion still send cards by mail and like to receive a collection of cards for various occasions together with a supply of first class stamps.

I am in love with my Waring Pro Professional Waffle Maker (got it at Costco). It's a nice small waffle, simple to make with many variations from whole wheat to adding fruit. It's not too big for one person but if one wants only half, they are easy to heat up in the toaster.

To piggyback Grandmother (Mary)'s idea:

along with a collection of cards and stamps, I ran off address labels for all mom's friends and relatives, children, inlaws and grandchildren. My mother had terrible arthritis in her hands, so addressing cards was a painful chore (especially to make them legible).

Great ideas Ronni. How about a basket of favorite skin products, lotions, hand creams, foot creams, sunscreen. Look about when you visit and see what they use, men too, my Dad had the driest skin. If they live alone, how about a long handled back scratcher, and a similar lotion applicator for those dry itchy backs (endemic in my family). An electric can opener can be nice too. Another good gift I think is coffee, beans if they have a grinder or get it ground in the store if they don't.

Good hint I just discovered ... go to MapQuest.com or Google Maps and enter the person's address. After you get the map, you can search the immediate area for stores and restaurants, then buy a gift card for a couple of them. If they are locally owned, you can look them up and call or contact them to ask about the possiblity of buying a gift card for your friend.

One of my dearest older. age 89, lady friends is given a package of necessities....mind you, her necessities are not conventional but this is what she likes...a carton of ciggies(she is British), small choc bon bons, diet coke(6pack)..I also give her stamps, she loves to still write..a telephone gift card for overseas calls, cat nip for her cat, big hand held magnifier, subscription to NY Times...all the little things that are just for her and her likes....we have English tea and laugh about her Christmas basket...she is much older than I, but our friendship is ageless..she is a treasure in my life

Wonderful ideas! A few elders we know raved about the flashlights which come on when the power goes out, a frequent winter reality around here. (from Costo, not much $--they wait plugged into an outlet & somehow get the message when the power goes out, and shine brightly).

I like to get lunch-sized colored paper bags and personalize useful small trinkets, for young and old, i.e.,hand sanitizer or lotion, a gourmet chocolate or two, holiday socks, foot warmers, eyeglass wipes, a cartoon or two, Postits, new pens, etc. Thanks to you all, I can also enclose some of your great suggestions. Happy holidays to all you fun folks! I'm grateful to all...

Ronni--Thanks for the posting. I would plead with anyone who plans to give a subscription to food stuffs (you know the type - every month something is sent to the recipient) that they ask the recipient if they would rather have that or "something else".

Nearly every year someone subscribes me to a fruit club. Except for the apples, oranges, and pears, the money is wasted as the more exotic fruits cannot be left to lie on the front porch in 110 degree heat or 20 degree cold - and that's when I'm in town. If it comes while I'm out of town....
I would rather the money be given to Planned Parenthood or some other non-profit!

Great post, Ronni and some really good suggestions from the gallery.

I gave my mother gift certificates for message sessions. She enjoyed them into her 90s. She also liked seamless socks, which are a bit expensive and not very easy to find.

Another thought: A ROKU might be worthwhile. I have one and love it. It's hardware that gives access to Netflix and other such services. Rokus have built-in wireless, they're simple to operate once installed, and are not terribly expensive - as low as $49 up to $99. http://www.roku.com/roku-products.
The ROKU store: http://www.roku.com/roku-channel-store

Previous post should be massage sessions? :(

Jigsaw puzzles.

Rubber ice pick boot covers so we can get around in winter.

A snowmobile.

A tuque.

A case of Canadian maple syrup.

A hockey stick, in case anyone tries to break into your house.

A year supply of gas for snowmobile.

A mini trampoline (make sure you get to test it in the store before bringing it home.) Never mind why.

A personal chef.

Heated slippers.

A pet bird that sings like Louis Armstrong.

A pair of cowboy boots.

Tap shoes.

A hockey bag stuffed with money.

A free, furnished condo in NY City, complete with doorman who happens to be a wizard.

The thousand top hits of all times, on an ipod.

Seasons pass for any sport you wish to see, complete with chauffeur.

One year of Sirius radio in your car.

A Malibu beach house.

Ventriloquist lessons.

Tickets to a movie a week, for a year.

Tickets to Cirque Soleil.

Your personal handyman. Have tools, will travel.

A greyhound rescue dog.

A cat from a shelter. Choose an older one.

What else?

A plant aquarium, made from a glass goldfish bowl found at flea market, fill with earth, some small plants. Place sideways on table. Beautiful.

A small battery radio that fits under your pillow for nights you can't sleep, because you're decorating that beach house in your mind.

Love this list, Ronni. I often send it around to friends and they always appreciate it. Thanks. And thanks to all the other contributors. Isn't the Internet GREAT?!? This is so useful!

I usually for Christmas I send my grandparents fruit baskets. They enjoy them very much as its beneficial to their health at such an older age.

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