Holiday Gifts for Older Family Members and Friends


‘Tis the season — the season of uncertainty about what gift to get for your grandparents, older parents or Aunt Myrtle. You want to be festive, you want to be thoughtful, and you know that another two-pound box of chocolates might not be the best idea. But what can you get for an older family member? We have a handful of good ideas:

  • Warm things. Many (not all) seniors are perpetually cold. A lap blanket or throw might be a good choice, especially as it will be given in the cold season. Warm slippers (these look interesting for men, and these for women might be appropriate), or warm and somewhat baggy socks (so they will be easy to slip on and off) make good warming gifts.
  • Sweaters and lighter jackets. Continuing in the “warm” category — but with this wrinkle: make choices that are easy to put on, take off, close or leave open. Think about vision problems as well as arthritis. Avoid pullover sweaters; look for alternative closures (velcro, big buttons, hooks).
  • Phones. You’ve moved on, and no longer even have a landline, right? Your mother has not, however — she still thinks of a “phone” as a handset with a plug connection to a wall socket. She might not want to learn how to use a smartphone — she might just want a phone with buttons big enough for her to see (and touch without hitting the button next to it). She might want some help with her hearing loss, so consider a landline telephone with a screen that provides speech-to-text translation. A client of ours recently bought a CapTel telephone for herself, and is pleased with how much easier it is to talk to a long-time friend in another state. We’ll be looking into this idea for our own mother, though we haven’t used it yet ourselves.
  • Tablets. OK, maybe your grandfather isn’t technologically savvy. But we’ll bet he can figure out an iPad, if it’s properly set up (don’t send it to him and expect him to get it configured to work with the network at his independent living facility). The devices are designed to be intuitive — our two-year-old grandson can figure out how to do all sorts of things (mostly acceptable), and so can your grandfather. Note that we said “iPad”, and not an Android. Though we use Androids in our office, we recommend that you choose the much more widespread iPad, so that others in the facility or neighborhood are more likely to be able to help or explain things. This is the wrong place to argue about technological purity — just make it easier for Granddad to get use out of his tablet. What will he do with it? How about starting with Facetime?
  • How-To-Use-Your-New-iPad. Not the real title, but if you’re getting an iPad for an older relative, maybe you want to get them some old-fashioned paper-based reading material to explain it. “My iPad for Seniors” looks like a good option. Disclaimer: we’ve ordered it but haven’t read it yet.
  • Kitchen implements. Arthritis a problem? Look at the kitchen items — many of them ingenious — on the website. Many “OXO Good Grips” kitchen items, made for easier handling, are especially useful for seniors (we use the OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cups in our kitchen daily — and they’re just easier to use).
  • Digital photo frame. This is ingenious. We’ve set one up for our mother. It comes alive when she walks past it, it shows a constantly rotating sequence of photos, and a whole collection of family members have the e-mail address to send photos automatically. That means she can keep up on family photos in real time, and she reports that she sometimes watches it as if it were television. The particular device we use is the Nixplay unit, but there are others out there, too.
  • Activity tracker. This one is a little bit more of a stretch, but it might work for your family member. It does require some monitoring, and recharging of the basic unit. We like the Fitbit, but there are other choices. The positives: it makes your family member a part of the competitive group (you have one yourself, right?), it gives you the ability to monitor your family member’s activity (assuming everyone is agreeable with that) and it encourages more exercise and activity.
  • Shutterfly. While we’re thinking about family photos, try putting some on everyday items like mugs, pillows, jigsaw puzzles or all manner of other items. Here’s a lovely idea: get that warm throw (see above) with a family photo or collage! The best-known source for turning photography into household items is Shutterfly, but there are others out there, too. Costs are surprisingly reasonable.
  • Stocking stuffers. Does your dad have a hard time getting in and out of your car when you take him out? Look for this ingenious device (there are several manufacturers) that you can store in your car door’s well or glove box. Some variants include a flashlight as part of the package, which seems like a good idea — but maybe a set of several small keychain flashlights would be a better choice. How about a ballpoint pen that is easier to handle and harder to lose? Look at this oversized-but-comfortable pen (though, frankly, we’ve been using this very retro disposable fountain pen, and handing them out to our elderly clients like candy).
  • Canes and walking sticks. Does it seem to you (as it does to us) like maybe a more attractive cane would get used more often? Especially if it was more comfortable in the hand? How about this cane, or another with a favorite theme (like horses)?

Do you have other good ideas? Feel free to share — quickly, please. We need to complete our shopping list, too.

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