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Tips for what gifts to give older relatives

Every year there’s someone you find a little harder to shop for, because either they have everything or you don’t know their likes and dislikes well enough to feel confident with your choices. Often that someone is an older relative or friend. 

There are lots of places online with suggestions to make your shopping easier, but the most valued gift you can give — and yet one that is hard to let go of: Some of your time. 

Time is one of the most precious gifts you can offer to anyone at any age, but for the elderly, it is often a priceless treasure. So when you give a gift to anyone, particularly an older person or someone living alone, ask if you can come by for a real, in-person visit. Take the kids with you if the recipient would like to see them — and they are old enough to focus on the activities. Present it as a seasonal activity, not just another quick stop in a long list of errands to run. 

But what are you going to give them? 

  • An “I Love You” book could include pictures of family or friends, drawings by grand­chil­dren or great-grandchildren, family stories from several family members, and/or coupons for hair care, professional manicures, tickets to a community function, dinner outside their community — or at their residence. 
  •  A calendar that has been marked with special family happenings such as birthdays and anniversaries. (If you start early enough, family photos could be the artwork for the calendar.)
  •  Ask family members to each write a “Reason Why” card, to tell the resident why he or she is special, and perhaps include a shared memory. Include snapshots of the writers.
  •  The “gift of lessons” would be great for someone who wants to learn a particular skill or craft that could be accomplished with a few lessons and some time. You might need to provide transportation to the class, but that’s another chance for a weekly conversation.
  • Get family members to share their memories for a book of family history. They can write them down or record them on a cassette for a resident with vision impairments. While you’re there, record some of your loved one’s memories to have for posterity. You could get started by asking them to comment on what some of the others have said, or just tape your conversation together.

Other, more traditional gifts might in­clude:

  • A subscription to their hometown news­pa­per or local newspaper, favorite mag­a­zines or other large print reading materials
  • Digital or large-face clock
  • Radio or cassette tape player and tapes
  • Large print address book
  • Notepads and an assortment of cards with some envelopes al­ready addressed to family and friends, stamps
  • Games such as dominoes or checkers, or a deck of large face cards
  • Clothing items, marked for the laundry
  • Sewing items such as a needle threader, thread, yarn.

Remember what they used to like to do and see if you can find a related item that allows them to stay interested in it, despite arthritis, limited vision or hearing. If they’ve always loved to read, look for books they’d enjoy in large type or on tape — and provide the player if they don’t have one. Ask administrators if what you decide on is appropriate, including any gifts of food.

If they ask you to shop for their gift to someone else, you might even offer to take them shopping for it.