[This was originally published in slightly different form at Blogher.]
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, won’t unnecessarily complicate their lives and of course, 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’re just one more thing that needs dusting.
Also, consider that many elders are on fixed incomes. Annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits are almost always offset (and more) by increases in Medicare and other premiums which are not optional expenditures. So gifts that might seem too ordinary and mundane for a holiday can fill an important hole in an elder’s life.
Here are some ideas:
Eyesight often 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.
Even without large-print available, subscriptions to favorite magazines could be welcome.
Movie buffs might like a year’s prepaid membership to Netflix. Or a small collection of DVDs starring a favorite actor or built around a theme or genre they like. Or a dozen pre-paid tickets to the local movie theater.
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 is hard to find. Two friends know this and starting long before I entered the realm of elderhood, they 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 (65) and older, often settled on a particular scent when we were young and have used it all our lives. The price of mine is now so high that I often 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 89, 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.
A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard would appreciate a Plant-of-the-Month membership. There’s no upkeep, and there is a continuous supply of nature’s color in the house.
Get your child or children to do a special drawing for grandma or grandpa and present it already framed for hanging on the wall.
For cooks and bakers among the elders in your life, there are new, silicon pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc. recently in stores that don’t need greasing and can be cleaned easily without scrubbing.
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 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 all 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.