ELDER MUSIC: 1965 Again
Having THAT Conversation With Elders

Holiday Gifts for Elders 2014

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Supposedly it is conventional wisdom that it is hard to shop for old people. Not true. Not true at all, as the extraordinary length of this annual elders' gift guide shows.

Below are repeats from previous years incorporating reader suggestions that have accumulated here over time. I'm sure you'll find useful ideas and I look forward to your newest suggestions in the comments.

When I was a kid, my mother and her friends made jokes – unfunny, rueful jokes – about getting a vacuum cleaner as a birthday gift or a washing machine for Christmas from their husbands. (I'm pretty sure there have been numerous New Yorker cartoons on the subject over the years.)

In the late 1940s and 1950s, those were extravagant purchases for young couples and would certainly be a help for women who did virtually all the housework in those days.

But even though I was a little kid eavesdropping on the grownup ladies, it was easy to know that they would rather have a bottle of perfume, a silk blouse or a pair of pretty earrings.

In past holiday gift suggestion lists, I have included a lot of practical aids for elders that help with the inevitable difficulties that accompany growing old.

They are important especially for elders on tight budgets and they are repeated below from past years. But my mother and her friends preferred more fun-type gifts on holidays and they certainly had a point.

With that in mind, my favorite stupid gift (so far) this year comes from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog – an Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster.


But then I got to thinking that it would be a load of fun to make indoor s'mores when the grandchildren visit in winter so this might not be so silly after all. On the other hand, giving elders – many of whom have enough trouble downsizing - new “stuff” may not be the best idea.

As with all gifts, you need to know the recipient.

Good ideas don't change much year-to-year so I've decided to repeat last year's post with minor updates as seem necessary or useful.

Even with my above admonition about fun versus practical gifts, I am always concerned about elders with small, fixed incomes so 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.

Mobility is an issue for some elders. They may have given up driving or 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.

A supply of home-cooked meals, individually wrapped and ready for the freezer.

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. 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 that 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 gardening 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 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 elders so if your friend or relative doesn't have one, this can be a good idea.

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 people who already have the e-reader hardware, a gift certificate to Amazon or other book download sites is a terrific idea.

For paper reading, you might consider a high-end magnifying glass. I realize it's 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.

And batteries, lots and lots of batteries for all the things we have nowadays that need them.

A while back, Celia suggested a basket of personal items:

”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.”

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. 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 too expensive an indulgence on a small income.

One 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 such an alert gizmo with the service contract paid for each year can be a good peace-of-mind gift. A large number of companies provide this service so 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.

A couple of readers have mentioned a collection of greeting cards for a variety of occasions and don't forget the postage stamps to go with them. Help with writing notes and addressing cards is good for arthritic friends.

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.

This list, lengthy as it is, is only a staring point. Now it's time for your suggestions. What gifts have you been most pleased to get? Which ones you have given were successful choies? And what have you given or received that was a mistake.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: The Julian House


Since I live on an extremely limited income, my most favored gifts are gift cards.I use them to buy small luxuries that are not in my budget.

And for the caregiver.....how about an hour or two or more of time with a LO who may just need someone to keep on eye on them.........especially those who care for dementia LOs. Just an hour away for a cuppa would be a big help. It's difficult to be homebound with someone altho' not bed-bound may need constant attention. Dee

Just remember. If the gift is for someone living in a nursing home or ALF, make sure that the facility permits such items. Some of the No-no's may be alcohol, some appliances and some food items. As for me, any gift basket from Hickory Farms is just fine.

When my parents downsized into a newly built 55+ housing complex, their yard was basically empty. For Christmas I gave them a gift certificate to a local gardening store/nursery and in the spring they were able to buy a beautiful flowering tree (which they named after me!)

This is a wonderful yearly post. I'm one who would love the practical items. But I know many, many women my age who still want 'pretties', so some thought does indeed need to go into these gifts. And there are also those who really, truly don't want anything but your company.

So many good ideas here, Ronni -- though $69.95 for the marshmallow toaster is a lotta "stupid"!

One thought -- I live 1500 miles away from my children, so we need to think about things that don't need to be carried on a plane.

Sachets are nice gifts and they can be very pretty.

If the elder is not on a diet, pastry from a good bakery would be welcome. So often we are unable to bake for ourselves now.

The best gift of all is usually a visit from a good friend, a lunch or dinner out or a ride in the country.

If you live where there are museums or nice art galleries a trip to one of those would be welcome if the elder is up to it.

Think of what the elder has had to give up that he/she used to enjoy and try to fill that need.

But please, no more gadgets, dust collectors or fancy accessories. At least, not for me.

My idea of a great gift for someone who is not thought of as an "artist", but who appreciates art/art galleries :
a softcover book, The Zen of Seeing (Seeing/Drawing) ~~ maybe with a small drawing pad and a few pencils.

One of the most useful things my son does for me (at no cost to himself) is share his Huge-Online-Site-That-Starts-With-A Prime account. (Or give someone their own AP account for even more benefits.) Throughout the year I can order all the little odds and ends I want and get free shipping. Wonderful for those items you normally wouldn't order on line because the shipping costs more than the item.

To the idea of flashlights, I would add a battery powered lantern. Flashlights get you from room to room, but a lantern actually lights an area enough to do something.

A great collection of suggestions, and I'd like to add one more. A friend of mine who lost her husband this year was recently talking about all the changes to her life that this has meant. One that I had never thought about was not being able to put lotion on her own back, something he had done for her for decades. The indoor air tends to be dry during the long heating season in northern Illinois, and this was one of the many things that she had been missing since his death a couple of months ago, as she suffered with a dry itchy back. By the time she brought this up, she had already solved her problem. She had found a lotion applicator at a local store of a national chain that specializes in bath and bed items. It has a long handle and little pockets in which you place lotion, which then distribute it nicely onto your back when you rub it around. This item was under $10 and has made a world of difference to her. Such a small thing, but it's provided her so much relief and comfort. I have gotten one for my sister who is alone, for her Christmas gift box this year, along with a couple of nice lotions. I never would have thought of this if my friend had not brought it up. Since then, I have shared this idea with others who have already added them to their Christmas purchases this year for other people who are alone. They are available online and some times with free shipping and holiday discounts, making them even more convenient and affordable.

Many good ideas from Ronni and others! I particularly liked Darlene's thinking. Not very different from the listings, but meaningful to me, is scented (large bar)soap. I'm a practical sort of person, but my mother used to gift me with a bar of soap in the scent of the (no-longer-available) scent products that I used. That was something I wouldn't spend the money on (not that I couldn't afford it - it just seemed extravagant!) I've never been able to bring myself to open the last bar that Mom gave me - several months before she died, over 20 years ago.

Thanks to all!

One thing that my late mother-in-law used to do was to re-arrange the furniture in her living room and in her bedroom -- she used to do her living room every week and her bedroom every three months. Then her health deteriorated to the point where she couldn't do that anymore. So, I marked it on my calendar and would plan with her which day would be convenient for her and my husband and I would show up and move her furniture around, vacuuming and dusting as we went, so that everything was spic-and-span when we finished. We'd do this about every couple of months for several years until her death -- she loved it!

We also installed grab bars in her bathroom and for the single step down into her living room.

She had arthritis in her hands, but still enjoyed sending her many relatives cards for their birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So I took her address book and printed address labels for each name listed -- I think I started with five for each name -- to save her the effort to address the envelopes by hand.

Rolls of stamps are also a welcome gift. And money-saving coupons for items you know the recipient likes and buys.

as far as flashlights go, i recommend ones that go around your head like a miner's lamp. hand's off leaves two hands free.

Great list of gifts. I wonder if HS still makes the marshmallow roaster?

Hearing aide battiers.

Great ideas! My husband and I aren't in need of "the basics" yet, but we may find ourselves there in years to come. It looks like I may be fully retired (semi-involuntarily due to management changes) at the end of this year. I'll be 78 next month so it's probably time, but I'll miss the extra income and that's for sure!

Unfortunately, what will take the biggest hit whenever I stop working entirely is the nonprofits I've donated to over the years. I won't have much disposable income so my donations will be much less generous or even nonexistent. That will be difficult for me because I've donated to help needy people--and animals--for many years.

The gift of a donation to a favored charity in the older person's name might be appreciated--but of course ONLY if the elder has sufficient income to meet his/her own needs (including pet care, if applicable) and the occasional luxury or pleasure.

Favorite gifts are those which respect who I am as a person, nothing to do with my age. Simple things which reflect their love, and mine for beauty.

I think Judith says it all in her reply.

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