I've worked with the elderly and people with special needs for 20+ years. I have an awareness of some of the things that might help them.
Buying Gifts for the Elderly
Buying a gift for an elderly loved one is really no different than buying a gift for anyone else. You merely need to think about what it is they enjoy or need, and that will guide your decision. What constitutes a good gift for anyone will vary because everyone is different.
Some people over the age of 75 are still very active and may even travel; they may bicycle, walk, and care for their own home. Others beyond this age may have more limitations. Clearly, a pair of plane tickets to Paris may delight one elderly individual but be completely useless to another. A new, bright, shiny magnifying glass to help a grandma do her crossword puzzles may be perfect for one person, while offensive to another!
The gift ideas in this article cross both ends of the spectrum and are offered to help stimulate your thinking when it comes time to buy gifts for elderly people.
The Stuff Money Can't Buy
Spend Time With Them
For many elderly individuals, separation from family, loss of friends, and so forth can result in feelings of loneliness. One of the most universally appreciated gifts is that of your time. Taking a day to visit, perhaps taking them out, or just spending time talking, reminiscing, and laughing is often very precious to the elderly.
Cook for Them
One of the things we always enjoyed doing with my mother was cooking. Now, at age 83 and living alone, she seldom cooks. Spending time in her kitchen choosing recipes and preparing them is a special occasion for all of us. The time we spend together eating and talking is something I know she treasures.
For elderly individuals who live alone or with just a spouse, the amount of cooking that goes on is greatly reduced. They often don't make special treats like cookies and other baked goods.
Often, I will mix up small batches of favorite cookies and bring them in a container for my mother to freeze. Then she can thaw, bake, and enjoy them in small quantities over the next few weeks.
Do Activities They Love
I had a great-grandmother who loved birds. On her 96th birthday, we drove her to a sanctuary, and we spent a lovely day observing the birds.
One of the best gifts for the elderly is to think about the things they've always enjoyed, and probably still do, and spend unhurried time with them engaged in these activities.
For families that live nearby, staying connected is as easy as stopping by on any given day. But for many of us, distance makes this difficult. Many of the more modern means that allow the rest of us to stay connected can be confusing or anxiety-provoking for some elderly individuals, especially if they aren't the type of person who has kept up with technological advancements.
Therefore, other great gifts for the elderly might be things that would allow them to be better connected to you and the other people they love. Of course, whatever you choose may require you to do set-up and spend time teaching them how to use it.
Wireless Photo Frame
One simple item that requires no technical skills is a wireless photo frame. Many of these allow you to set up an e-mail address, and then you can choose to have photos show up immediately on the screen when you send them to that address.
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Others give the option of syncing with an Instagram or Facebook account so that your social media photos immediately show up on their photo frame. Then, Grandma or Grandpa doesn't have to do anything to enjoy the latest photos of your kids or your vacation. You can even have older photos digitized and load them on the frame.
Tablet or Smartphone
There are, of course, numerous technological devices and apps that can help seniors stay connected. The gift of a tablet or smartphone (especially one with a webcam or front-facing camera) where they can interact on Facebook, Skype, or other apps is a great way to stay in touch and feel connected to their community.
Amazon's Echo Show is another great option. Apps like Words With Friends can be great to download to allow some basic gameplay with friends and loved ones.
If your older loved one is timid about technology, there are simplified devices designed with them in mind. Telekin computers are good for Skyping, emailing, reading the news, and so forth, and are also very simple to use. The Claris Companion is a tablet-type device that offers connectivity and a way to monitor an elderly loved one to assure they are safe.
Set-up, a lesson, and some practice can assure that a new app or device is enjoyed.
Many older people still enjoy the goodies they always loved. Therefore, gift baskets with their favorite things are a great gift idea. You can even locate services that will deliver a different item each month. These can be chocolates, cheeses, wines, coffees, teas, or something else. Even flowers can be a great idea. By gifting them with a flower of the month subscription, the gift continues to brighten their days throughout the year.
Some older women continue to enjoy new perfumes, bath items, and other beauty items. These are easy to find, of course, even if you simply stuff a pretty basket with trial-size items.
For variety, an entire family can opt to create a more personalized gift basket. After purchasing a suitable basket, each family member can find one item to add. Some family members may choose to add a small photo frame, some bath gel, scented soaps, and similar items for women; or perhaps aftershave, clippers, and other grooming tools for men.
Active or health-conscious seniors may want:
- A juicer to make healthy drinks
- A walking or hiking stick
- A new bicycle seat
- A tandem bicycle
- New golf shoes
- Anything else you can think of that suits their activity of choice
For a senior who has shown less initiative, perhaps a membership at a fitness center and a few accompanied visits might break down any reservations they have about going. Some centers do offer classes specifically for seniors. (For the elderly, be sure any new level of activity is ok with a physician.)
Silver Sneakers is an example of a fitness network offered through many centers nationwide and supported by some Medicare plans.
Local rehabilitation centers might be able to direct you toward exercise programs designed specifically for the elderly, for those with poor balance, and for those confined to a wheelchair.
Of course, healthy aging also includes keeping the mind active. There are numerous sites and apps that can be useful for older individuals. Luminosity is one of the most well known for stimulating attention and concentration, as well as other cognitive abilities. Introducing your loved one to these and paying for a year's subscription might be the perfect gift.
Making and Perserving Memories
Personalized memory books can make a great gift for the elderly. Going through photos and reliving the best times can be a fun and stimulating experience. In some instances, you may even want to construct the book together, sorting through the items and telling stories as you go.
Of course, this can also be done as a display item for the wall rather than a book.
Website or Blog
For other seniors who are more technologically savvy, starting a web page, blog, or simply being introduced to photo-sharing sites (i.e. Photobucket, Shutterfly, Dropbox, ThisLife) may be the thing that gets them preserving their memories and sharing with you. The first step is always the hardest, so being there to get them started is what some loved ones need.
Experiences and Travel
Just because someone reaches a particular age, that doesn't mean they don't enjoy new experiences.
When she turned 78, my mother-in-law received a stay in a nearby bed and breakfast with her husband. They really enjoyed the luxury of the spa tub, being served a special breakfast, and going out for dinner. They took a drive around the community, enjoyed a short museum visit, did some shopping, and spent an afternoon reading. It was perfect for them.
At age 79, she received plane tickets and hotel accommodations in Las Vegas for a few nights from one of her daughters. They weren't high rollers, but this was still a memorable trip for them.
Before my father died, our family wanted to take a long road trip out West, seeing the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and even Yosemite—all places he had never been. He wasn't able to hike every trail with us, but he saw all of the sights, enjoyed some walks and great picnics; and shared in the journey, the memories, and the fun.
Gift Ideas: Things They Will Use
Some of the best gifts for elderly individuals can be items they really need—it just depends on their situation.
- A simple example is a nice robe, slippers, or pajamas. My mother loves warm cotton jammies; my mother-in-law, on the other hand, likes sexier lingerie. Just take personal taste into account!
- Some might like a heated blanket, or perhaps a weighted blanket to provide a more comfortable night's sleep.
- Some older people might benefit from a special amplified phone to help them communicate better during phone calls.
- Maybe gift them a long-handled brush or sponge for hard-to-reach areas or pretty new rugs that have a non-skid surface, which can help prevent falls. Any number of items that could assure they're safe and can be as independent as possible would be great gifts. These include grab bars in the bathroom, handheld showerheads, or other items that are needed but that they do not yet own.
- Magnified mirrors can also be really useful in the bathroom for applying makeup, tweezing, shaving, and so forth.
- Alarm clocks with a large display or those that project the time onto the wall or ceiling can be easier to see, and some will even plug into a lamp, causing it to flash if audible alarms don't work as well. There are, of course, all kinds of adaptive aids for those with poor hearing.
- If they travel by car, do they have AAA to provide assistance if needed or a subscription to OnStar or similar service? Do they have a simple GPS device so they don't struggle with hard to read maps? Think about what they do or enjoy and you may identify something that will make it easier, safer, or even more enjoyable.
- Perhaps you have an elderly family member who no longer drives but is able, with some outside help, to live in their own home. You might consider paying for a driving service to allow them to get where they need to go. You can find services like SilverRide, HelpAtYourDoor, or others. These are targeted specifically for the elderly.
A Look Back
Some older individuals love to reminisce. Some enjoy it more than others, but almost everyone likes reminders of happy times.
Luckily, there are a number of publications available that can give them a fresh walk down memory lane. Reminisce is just one of the possibilities; it takes a look back at the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Publications like these can make great gifts for the elderly.
If your loved one enjoys music, there are many options for oldies collections from any era. Of course, classic movies can also be a great gift as well. If they really love movies, then a subscription to Netflix will allow them to get old classics and even newer movies delivered directly to their door or streamed to their television.
Many older individuals still enjoy hobbies. They may be the ones they've always loved but now have more difficulty enjoying. For instance, a crossword puzzle-lover may have reduced vision. Getting a collection in large print is one option, or giving a large full page magnifier may help. If their dexterity is poor, then working such puzzles on the computer may prove easier with the keyboard or perhaps by using speech-to-text programs.
Jigsaw puzzles, adult coloring books, paint-by-number kits, and similar items may keep some happy as well. If beneficial, there are also jumbo-sized playing cards available. If you loved one is more adventurous, they might enjoy a trip with you to a local "paint and sip" studio, or perhaps a pottery studio where they can learn a new hobby or just enjoy the fun for one afternoon.
Gardening is another example of an activity that many elderly individuals still enjoy. Gift ideas for the elderly might include kneeling benches or knee pads, or items with longer handles that don't require as much stooping. Of course, a basket of seeds or bulbs can also be great.
If your elderly loved one is on a quest to see the world while they still can, then any number of items may come to mind. Binoculars, travel guides, electronic translators, the right apps for their phone, a portable digital camera or camcorder, and so forth are just a few of the many the options.
For those still with a youthful attitude but less ability to get out and about, an online course might be just right. Anything from painting to history is available.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry
Rpenafiel from United States on August 29, 2011:
Great hub! The ideas you mentioned here are very practical. You’ve mentioned cell phone as a helpful device to keep the elderly connected with their families. I agree to this and since there are now cell phones for seniors that are available in the market, looking for one that can be very convenient for them to use will be easy. The Just5 cell phone for instance offers features that can be very useful to them.
joyce.blue on December 11, 2010:
Great ideas and set of suggestions. It's a bit hard to know what to give to seniors these days but this really made me have some great ideas on what to give.
PaperNotes on August 25, 2010:
Great ideas. I used to buy my grandmother some food supplements and vitamins.
Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on August 10, 2010:
Awesome post about gift ideas, I had to feature it on my hub about Grandparent's day because it fit right in!! Thanks for the great post, keep up the good work :)
Janice S on June 03, 2010:
Great list of ideas...I always have such a hard time coming up with things to get our grandparents. Visiting or going out to lunch with them is probably the most appreciated gift, but it is hard when they live out of state.
Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on June 03, 2010:
Great hub on gifts for the elderly.
valery elias on June 02, 2010:
Great ideas for the elderly and gifts. Time is the best.
Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on June 02, 2010:
My mother has everything she needs when it comes to creature comforts, and supplies and outlets for her interests. What she values the most is the time she spends with others.
I was quite struck by reading your Hub today. It follows as an affirmation of the time spent with my mother yesterday. My mother and I do not see each other often, because we live far apart. But yesterday, we spent the day together, doing some things, doing nothing, talking, driving around, sharing a meal...
She's called me twice since then to express her joy for the day we spent together.
The greatest gift for the elderly is your loving time. And that's the greatest gift for anyone else, too. It's a gift you give to yourself.
Kay Creates from Ohio on June 02, 2010:
These are great suggestions.
Nell Rose from England on June 01, 2010:
Hi, this was a fantastic idea. I always remember when my mum and dad were still with me, I could never think of the right things to buy them. You have some great ideas here. and you totally surprised me when you said about the picture frames that you can e-mail. I had never heard of them. I knew that you can get the electronic ones that change pictures, but not about the e-mail bit. rated up definetly. I could have done with this a few years ago. thanks nell