The holidays are here; accompanied, as usual, by the relentless urge to find the "perfect" gift for friends and family members. The quest for the quintessential present is by turns trying and triumphant—especially if you're searching for something to give an aging loved one who needs some extra assistance.
What's a good gift for someone who's still independent, but is having trouble getting around? Where do you draw the line between a present that is helpful, and one that is insulting?
Holiday gifts present the opportunity to show an elderly family member how much you value the relationship you share with them. "Take the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate your loved one's life. Find something that will honor who they are and who they've been," says Sharon Roth Maguire, M.S., R.N., Chief Clinical Quality Officer for BrightStar Care, a company specializing in home care services.
Maintaining sanity during the holiday season can be a challenge for an overworked caregiver, who often has little time and energy to spare on concocting the ideal gift idea. The lure of traditional fallbacks—a nightgown for mom, or a tie clip for grandpa—can be overwhelming.
But a great gift doesn't have to be overly complicated. In fact, simpler is often better when celebrating holidays with elders.
Roth offers some of her suggestions for good holiday gifts to give a loved one who may not be as robust as they once were:
A digital photo frame: Download a slideshow of pictures of your loved one's family and friends onto a digital photo frame that they can look at whenever they want to be reminded of the love that surrounds them.
The gift that keeps on giving: The trend of subscription gifts—think "Fruit of the Month Club"—has taken off in recent years. These gifts will be delivered to your loved one once a month, not just once a year, and they come in enough varieties to fit most interests, from the craft-maven to the movie-enthusiast.
Their favorite board game: Games are a great way to bring the family together for some fun, friendly competition. Seek out traditional favorites that your loved one enjoys playing, but be sure to keep in mind their mental abilities. If they have symptoms of cognitive decline, try not to purchase a game that's too complex or confusing.
A handmade blanket: Gifts made by hand are the perfect way to communicate compassion and caring to a beloved family member, and such tokens are also easily personalized to the specific preferences of the recipient. Maguire suggests picking a simple craft (think hand-knotted fleece blanket) and recruiting the younger generations to help make it. "These presents are true gifts of love that older adults appreciate so much."
Your time: Arguably the most thoughtful gift of all is the simple gift of your company. 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 is a free, yet invaluable, offering.
A classic movie: Movies have "incredible reminiscence value," according to Maguire. Select an assortment of films your loved one enjoyed watching in their youth, and set aside time to view them together.
The opportunity to live independently: The majority of older adults want to continue living on their own as long as possible, but physical and cognitive issues can make it hard for them to remain independent. Arthritis may make it painful to perform even simple tasks, such as opening a jar of jam, or walking up the stairs. Vision troubles can impede their ability to keep the house clean. Gifts such as a pick-up tool to help them reach things without having to bend down stand on their toes, or a house-cleaning service can go a long way towards helping your loved one hold on to their independence—a truly precious present. Just be careful to keep in mind the difference between helping and enabling.
A way to enhance their health: For a senior with limited mobility, or who can no longer drive, a trip to a traditional gym is likely out of the question. However, maintaining a level of fitness is key to helping an aging adult stay healthy and strong. A set of hand weights, a package of resistance bands or an exercise ball are all great gifts that can enhance your loved one's health and mood. You may also want to pay for a personal trainer to come to the house and show them how to use their new workout gear safely and effectively.
The ability to stay connected: Loneliness and isolation are twin plagues of the elderly, but cell phones and computers are enabling far-flung family members to more easily maintain their relationships. Some senior-friendly cell phone options include Jitterbug, Clarity Pal and Just5. These phones typically have large buttons and enhanced sound features, and most can be used with well-known carriers, such as T-Mobile and AT&T—though Jitterbug has its own separate calling plan. This means a senior can be added to your family plan, which may be more cost-effective than setting up a separate account. Basic video calls via Skype are free, but offering to create a profile for your loved one and teach them how to use it is a thoughtful gift option that will ensure they can stay in-touch with the rest of the family.
When it comes to giving gifts, there are few "bad" ideas, says Maguire. Just be sure not to get your loved one something that may confuse them, or be hazardous to their health.