It is that time to be thinking about Christmas gifts.
I enjoy shopping for gifts, but sometimes I really struggle to find the right one.
Shopping for your favorite senior is not much different than shopping for anyone else, with a couple small differences. One is that most seniors have lived long enough to have purchased or received all of the most popular gifts. They’ll claim they already have everything they need.
You want to find something they will love and use to make their daily lives happier and easier. The key is to explore their hobbies, interests, daily activities and habits. Explore not only what they do but what they might like to do.
The beauty of retirement years is people have time to explore new ideas or places. They might even have a “bucket list” to consider. So, first explore their activities and dreams, recognizing aging can impact the daily activities they enjoy.
The second difference is many seniors enjoy reminiscing. It is a time to reflect on their lives, experiences and families. Nostalgia becomes more and more important. There are times when looking through old photos and memories is just the ticket.
Let’s first consider physical limitations and how a thoughtful gift can make everyday activities more enjoyable.
Arthritis can be limiting. Special tools for gardening, raised planting beds, kneelers and rolling seats can allow gardeners to continue to enjoy their interests. There’s a similar scenario in the kitchen. Ergonomic kitchen tools and jar openers can make life easier. Anti-fatigue mats on the kitchen floor can take the pressure off feet and backs.
A cool nostalgia pick for the kitchen is a personalized cutting board. I found one on ETSY that was a handwritten favorite recipe engraved in the wood. When you are looking for nostalgia gifts, ETSY can be a great source of custom creations. Just leave the vendor with enough time to craft your special gift. ETSY and associated policies protect you when making purchases from their small businesses and craftsmen.
Consider the multitude of convenience and safety-oriented gifts. If you are not sure, I refer you to my favorite publication, AARP HomeFit Guide. This is great for doing a home-safety assessment. It will help you through fall-prevention measures. Improved lighting, such as, motion-detection night lights for outlets in bedrooms, bathrooms and halls, are great safety gifts.
Gifting the installation of grab bars for bathrooms (tub, shower and at the toilet) is a wonderful gift. After age 65, one in four seniors falls every year. More information at the National Institute on Aging regarding fall prevention suggests other gift ideas to prevent falls, such as a cane or walker, hearing aids (balance), new glasses, exercise and strength-building equipment and a visit to the doctor to review possible medication interactions.
They’re not traditional gifts, but certainly gifts of love when you are protecting a loved one’s health and welfare.
Speaking of health and welfare, perhaps paying for a service to assist with household chores, shopping or yardwork can be a great gift.
Are they living alone? Is there someone to check in on them? If not, consider helping them get signed up with Y.A.N.A. (You Are Not Alone program, at the Maricopa Police Department). For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 520-316-6800, ext. 1234. This gift gives two ways: It helps reduce isolation for your senior friend and it gives you peace of mind.
Other health-related gifts can include pill cases that are easy to open and use, electric toothbrushes and medical-alert systems, which can be set up to alert a family member or a monitoring service. Even if you live reasonably close to a loved one, these services can provide great peace of mind. After the first fall, you need to give it serious consideration!
For those who might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, consider a weighted blanket to help sleeping, Twiddle Muffs, music or family pictures to sooth their daily living. Check with their caregivers for best choices.
Other handy gifts include an armchair caddy (for glasses, TV remotes, puzzle books, TV guides), big-button TV remote control, memory-foam seat cushion and perhaps a wheelchair blanket.
From a clothing perspective, I found a big-pocket shawl (kind of a wearable armchair caddy) and a simple button aid and zipper pull. If they use a tape measure, consider a laser or at least a digital tape measure to make the process easier.
Activity gifts depend on the senior’s hobbies and interests. There are lots of choices for adult activity books, coloring books, large-font books, brain games and anti-boredom boxes. Puzzles and puzzle boards are great gifts. Look for large enough pieces for those with reduced vision. Nostalgia-oriented puzzles can include custom puzzles made from treasured family pictures. Another interesting nostalgia gift is the New York Times Anniversary Book that is custom assembled from front-page articles on a selected date like a birthday or an anniversary (be prepared for sticker shock).
If their HOA permits it, a bird feeder can bring a lot of joy. Window bird feeders are really cool for those wheelchair bound. Speaking of wheelchairs, would their home benefit from rubber transition ramps to improve ability to navigate from space to space throughout the house?
Now, I would be really remiss if I didn’t mention inclusion of a virtual assistant (Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home). They can play games, answer questions, check the weather, provide the news, or tell someone who is at the front door (if linked to doorbell camera).
Then there’s the GrandPad, which has a healthy monthly subscription fee but looks like a great way to stay in touch, particularly with grandchildren. It does not require the internet and it provides games, pictures with white-glove support. Probably not for the technically sophisticated but could be a great option for those who are not technically savvy. I personally have not evaluated this product, so you are on your own, but it potentially makes a lot of sense for families that are separated by distance.
Finally, my best recommendation is finding ways to do things with your loved ones. The most important gift is you! Find a way to get together for an event, an activity or just a family meal. Visit, play cards, games, eat your favorite snacks or desserts. Share stories! The day will come all too suddenly when there is no longer an opportunity to share memories. Family history can be lost forever. Those moments together seem simple, but they are everything. Don’t forget family or friends. Isolation, even if unintended, is a lost opportunity to share a moment of love.
Ron Smith is a living-in-place advocate, a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and a Certified Living in Place Professional.