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Holiday Gifts for Elders

Posted Dec 08 2011 8:30am

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

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