There’s never a shortage of ideas for what to buy children for the holidays, but it’s just the opposite for older family members. When it comes to asking aging relatives what they want, the typical response is, “I don’t know,” or, “You don’t have to get me anything.”
Many seniors truly do feel they have everything they need. As they look to downsize, material items can often be more of a burden than a blessing. Despite the plea for no gifts, family members and friends may—out of tradition, obligation or an instilled sense of guilt—purchase a holiday present or two for their aging loved ones anyway. However, without any guidance, even well-intended gifts sometimes fall flat. Another framed family picture can wind up collecting dust and taking up valuable space, or the latest piece of technology may become a source of daily frustration.
Fortunately, the Caregiver Forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled experienced caregivers’ best suggestions for safe and practical holiday presents that seniors will actually use and enjoy.
Holiday Gift Ideas for Senior Citizens
“My dad is into history and all things Navy since he served in the Navy during World War II on the USS Moffett. Years ago, the family got him pictures of the destroyer. This year, I found him pictures of his crew.” –fedup101
“When Mom took an interest in the beading activity at her nursing home (NH), I bought a large container of big beads and a case for her to sort them into. On some of my visits, we sat and sorted beads. I knew she couldn’t actually string them, so we saved that part for the activity sessions with helpers, but she loves sorting things. ‘The Girls’ (the four of us who visit the facility regularly) have also asked other family members for small gifts suitable for bingo prizes instead of the usual fare. Mother LOVES winning bingo prizes, so keeping the NH stock of prizes replenished makes her and the other residents very happy.” –jeannegibbs
“My sister sends our mom an amaryllis bulb in a pot each year. Mom loves to watch it grow. It puts out huge blooms, and Mom just has to water it now and then.” –Linda22
“For Dad, I look in those independent living catalogs to see if they have something he could use. One year, I got him a rolling work seat that he could use in the yard. He sits on it and pulls his tools around in it while gardening. Mom likes to try different hand lotions and different kitchen/bath soaps that come in a pump. New kitchen towels are also great. Side note: I finally got my distant relatives to stop sending gift cards. My parents no longer go to the malls (they just can’t anymore), and before that, we rarely found anything that fit or that they really wanted. However, a gift card to a big chain restaurant will work if it is very close by and offers carry-out that we can bring back to the house.” –freqflyer
“For Christmas, we are mailing little things to Mom each week. Each family member is taking turns so a couple of packages will arrive every week. Some of the gifts my dad will enjoy as well. Anything that distracts her and brings a smile to her face is a gift for him, too, as he is her primary caretaker.” –kwriter13
“Go to a website like Amazon and search for Tangles. You will find one-piece puzzles and other manipulative objects that are great gifts for seniors with dementia, limited eyesight or arthritic hands.” –Jnelson
“My mom is 94 and legally blind from macular degeneration. I got her an older edition of the Kindle Fire, which I loaded with books. She knows how to turn it on/off, can feel to plug it in to charge, and I’ve adjusted the font size to be very large and bright. She reads and reads...” –ImageIMP
“A gift certificate from a pharmacy the senior uses can be very useful. Copayments can add up.” –ArmyRetired
“We gave one parent (79), who lives independently and is very mobile, three season tickets to the symphony. For each performance, a different family member picked her up and accompanied her. This meant she got to do something she loved with family. She would never have gone alone. For another parent (92) with moderate dementia, I loaded a few dozen songs on an iPod shuffle for him to listen to. For someone who is not tech savvy, a shuffle is perfect because they can just push one button that starts and stops the music. It’s worth noting that you will have to plug it in to charge periodically. It is important to get over-the-ear headphones so they stay on, and you have to figure out what music the person enjoyed when they were younger. Part of the magic is the music seems to trigger memories.” –Spiritspry
“Unscented, flameless candles are a great option. QVC has a nice selection. Some are seasonal or religious in nature, and anyone I’ve given them to enjoys them. Some come with timers, so they can even function as a night light. You can give a pillar candle and buy a silk flower candle ring for spring, then swap it out with something seasonal for fall and winter.” –alizee
“My mother-in-law with dementia loves being taken for a pedicure. Last time we went, one of the nail technicians drew flowers on her big toes and she just adored looking at her own feet.” –OncehatedDIL
“I think an elder needs their seating to be as comfortable as possible. They can develop pressure sores from sitting on bones that have lost muscle mass. There are some pretty good seat cushions for sale nowadays for $15 to $25. My mom got an electric recliner a month or so before she passed away, and it made her life much more pleasurable.” –captain
“I recently found a cool service that regularly sends a postcard of the cutest animals on earth to people you know. It brought a big smile to my dad’s face!” –CaliDad
“My mom loves crossword puzzle books. They have the advantage of being consumable—once she fills it out, it can be recycled and not take up space in her small nursing home room. If your loved one is a tea drinker and there are limited kinds available in the dining room at their facility, perhaps a nice assortment of tea would be welcome. That kind of thing takes personal knowledge of the recipient and also of the facility they are in.” –jeannegibbs
“A bulletin board is great. If they can still handle push pins, then try a cork board. If push pins are too iffy for them to handle, then a metal one with magnets is an easy alternative. When my mom was in independent living, they had so many hand-outs and flyers for weekly activities, monthly schedules, menus, etc. that she had two metal boards (Ikea) and lots of big, bright magnets (Ikea children’s dept. and some from Office Depot) to organize them all. This idea is also good for displaying pictures and letters from family.” –igloo572
“I was thinking of getting my mom a Hallmark recordable book like All the Ways I Love You. I’m going to try to have my daughter record the reading. You read the book aloud, it records the reader’s voice and then they can play it back anytime they want. I think you can add words, like their name and your name, but I’m not sure.” –MishkaM
“Books on tape or DVDs are perfect for those living in a long-term care facility. Once they’re done with them, they can pass them on to other residents. Large print books are also good. They’re less tiring on the eyes and may not call for a loved one to keep their reading glasses on. A gift certificate to have a hairdresser make a house-call would be nice, too.” –Veronica91
“For a senior lady, try some interesting socks, hand creams or face cream you can help her use during visits. If she likes flowers, how about a nice artificial flower arrangement? (No watering, no dead flowers!) What items does the NH provide? You can probably get her nicer versions of things like hand soap for her bathroom.” –geewiz
Meaningful Gifts Come in Many Forms
As with any gift, the more personalized and thoughtful, the better. A present that serves a purpose in your loved one’s life as they know it today, or one that evokes memories of yesteryear, is always a winner.
More important than giving material presents, family and friends should focus on including seniors in holiday celebrations and traditions as much as possible. Taking the time to share experiences, whether it’s going to church or synagogue, attending a holiday play, learning about your family history, watching a movie, shopping, cooking or decorating together, will lift their spirits and create beautiful, lasting memories. There is no better gift than the gift of quality time.
What kinds of presents will you be giving to your aging loved ones this holiday season?