With the holiday season rearing its stressfully-festive head, the last-minute rush to find that “perfect gift” for your loved ones is likely reaching a fever pitch.
Of the many people who provide a gift-giving challenge—the friend who has everything, the sister who says, “Don’t spend any money on me!” but who secretly wants an extravagant gift—one of the trickiest individuals to buy for is the elderly family member or friend.
Aging adults span the spectrum, from the profoundly frail to the spry and spritely, and it can be hard to determine where to draw the line between a gift that is useful and a gift that is insulting.
There is one thing that many elders have in common, especially during the holidays: loneliness. “There are many cases of ‘holiday blues’ among seniors,” says Sharon Roth Maguire, M.S., R.N., Chief Clinical Quality Officer for BrightStar Care, a company specializing in home care services.
Maguire’s suggestions for spreading holiday cheer to a beloved elder focus on useful items and acts of service that will have a meaningful impact on your loved one’s life:
The gift of good memories: A digital photo frame full of slideshows of family photos is a wonderful way of reminding a senior of the love that surrounds them. Bonus points for scanning and uploading photos from when they were young. Another way to spark pleasant memories in an elderly loved one is by presenting them with their favorite movie. Films have “incredible reminiscence value,” according to Maguire; but don’t just hand over a wrapped DVD, set aside time to sit down and spend quality time together while watching the movie with them. (The one thing to be aware of when giving memory-based gifts is that they may not be a good choice if your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia. Something that is meant to spark pleasant recollections may backfire if it reminds them of their failing memory.)
The gift of connection: Many aging adults become isolated from their family and friends as trips outside their home become more and more challenging. Thankfully, computers and cell phones offer even widespread families the opportunity to stay in contact. Senior-friendly cell phones with large buttons and sound enhancing features for the hard of hearing are easy for elders to use and are compatible with most carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile. Basic video calls on the computer via Skype are free, but your gift can be the offer of helping your loved one create their own profile and learn the ropes so they can stay connected with friends and family who live far away.
The gift of good health: If your elderly loved one can no longer make it to the gym, consider getting them some items to outfit their own at-home fitness center. Staying active and fit is one of the best ways to stave off the physical and mental effects of aging. An exercise ball, a set of hand weights, or a package of resistance bands can help your loved one maintain their well-being. An in-home session or two with a personal trainer can help ensure that they know how to use the new equipment in a safe, effective manner.
The gift of your time: The gift of your company is perhaps one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give an aging loved one this year. Help your loved one bake a traditional holiday treat, engage in a joint crafting afternoon, or go on an outing to a movie or restaurant. Quality time spent together is a free, yet invaluable, offering.
The gift a little extra help: When asked, most elders say they want to age-in-place in their homes, but the advancing years often bring with them increasing issues—both physical and cognitive—that can make this a difficult proposition. Walking up stairs and opening doors can be painful ordeals for those stricken with arthritis. Housekeeping can become an impossible chore for someone struggling with vision problems. But the gift of a periodic house-cleaning service, or a pick-up-tool that enables them to grab dropped items without bending over can help your loved one safely live independently for a longer period of time.
There are very few “bad” ideas when searching for gifts for an elderly loved one, according to Maguire. Just be sure to stay away from things that could be hazardous to their health (i.e. don’t give a box of candy to a diabetic).
“Take the opportunity of the holidays to celebrate an elder’s life—honor who they are and who they have been,” says Maguire. “And remember, it’s also an opportunity to honor the ongoing connection between you and your loved one.”
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor