With decades of birthdays and holidays gone by, who isn’t stumped when it comes to knowing what gifts to buy senior members? By now, they’ve received their fair share of neckties and slippers, and there’s a good chance they already have what they want and need. Time is a precious commodity; few of us can afford to spend hours of shopping for the perfect gift, and overspending on unwanted and unneeded items.
What is treasured most by older people is spending quality time together and gifts that relay loving messages that they are special and thought of and cared about each day. To touch the heart and soul of the people who mean so much to you, here are a few gift ideas that are sure to make that happen:
Go back to school
Learning something new is twice the fun when you do it together. Adult education classes offer a variety of learning opportunities — from exploring ancient history and learning the computer or a new language, to arts and crafts. Spend time together taking a class.
Offer to organize their photograph collection. Buy new photo albums and photo boxes, and spend a few afternoons looking at the photos together as you put them in order. You might also consider putting their photos on a digital frame. Slideshows can be updated online.
Give a small decorative box of stationary cards and stamped envelopes, and offer to be their personal secretary. Let them dictate letters to friends and family as you write down their thoughts and mail the letters in their behalf.
Attend sing-along events at movie theaters, community events and college musical venues. Singing and harmony is always fun. Buy or rent a karaoke system and bring the music home.
Lead the way
Offer to chauffer your elders down memory lane by driving them around neighborhood streets and familiar places that hold special meaning for them. Pack a healthy picnic basket and enjoy the sights as you munch away.
Plug them in
Are your elders computer challenged? Watch their faces light up when they receive their first email. Presto™ sends e-mails without a computer. Plug the printing mailbox into any electric outlet to receive e-mail, digital photos, subscriptions to newsletters and more. The Presto mailbox makes a wonderful and unique gift (www.presto.com).
Get cozy with composers
Do they like musicals, spirituals, classical, jazz, or blues? Research the life of the composer and create a biography to read aloud. Listen to the music together while sipping coffee or tea. Giving them beautiful new coffee mugs and tea cups will remind them of this special visit.
Let the beat go on
If you think there’s a chance they want to resurrect a musical instrument they formerly played, offer to pay for music classes. If singing is their thing, offer to pay for voice lessons. Offer to drive them to class and take them out to eat afterwards to hear about their experience.
Go to your local photocopy shop or do-it-yourself software is available to create a beautifully bound book of your elder’s poetry, photographs, short stories and works of art. Seeing their creations in print will delight them.
Take them back
Invite them to journey back to their hometown. This is truly a gift of a lifetime. Creating a scrapbook of the trip will bring joy for years to come.
Never underestimate the power of giving your parents credit for all they’ve done for you. A home video reminds them of how they have positively influenced your life. Show off your cooking skills or perform a magic trick or tap dance (all of the talents you got from Mom or Dad, of course). If grandchildren are featured, have them recite a poem, play a musical instrument or show off their bowling or baseball abilities. End the film with a heartfelt message or song. Transfer the video to DVD for easy viewing.
Daily reminders of how special they are can give them an instant pick-me-up. Words like “We love you, Mom” and “I’m thinking about you, Aunt Betty” placed in a beautiful picture frame will inevitably make them smile.
Make time stand still
Celebrate the years of being a family by creating a time-line greeting card. Fold a legal piece of paper (construction weight) into five panels. Gather five photos of yourself—from infancy to childhood to teen years to young adult and now. Arrange one photo per panel and write a brief story under each photograph.
Throw a card party
Invite friends and family members to send your elders a greeting card and include any remembrance about them: a funny story, a photograph, a poem. Ask young grandchildren to draw a picture. Everyone loves to get mail, and for days they will be thrilled at getting lots of mail and cards with funny, endearing and touching notes. Place the cards in a beautiful scrapbook.
Treat your elders to a special dinner at their favorite restaurant. Present a fragrant orchid or lapel carnation to wear. Have everyone at the table stand up and offer a special toast for the guest of honor. Invite local city officials like the mayor to compose a letter of recognition to be read at the dinner table. Video the occasion and watch it over and over again.
Make a wish
Do your elders long to fulfill a dream? Make their wish come true.
Cook up a storm
Beyond learning how to create nutritious meals, cooking classes are naturally fun and entertaining. Offer to attend classes together. Don’t forget the camera.
Bloom the room
A beautiful vase filled with an arrangement of silk flowers will bring happiness and a sense of the outdoors into any room, and also remind them of you.
Take it personally
Composing a personal letter will touch them on many levels. Perhaps a note of thanks is in order explaining why you are grateful for them and how they blessed your life. Perhaps the letter is one of forgiveness for long-standing disputes that can now be put to rest. Remind your elders to reread the letter often to remind them of how much they are loved and appreciated.
Turn up the volume
Satellite radio and custom radio stations offers hours of pleasure – comedy, music from their era, radio programs, suspense series, the Lone Ranger, and much more. Satellite radio subscriptions are modestly priced. Spend time reminiscing and listening together.
Color-by-number, sticker books, finger paint, stencil placemats – the ideas are endless when you visit your local arts and craft store. The fun continues when the final product is on display for all to admire.
Taking an older baseball fan to the ball park can be a memorable outing — sitting in the stands, eating hot dogs, and cheering for the home team will put a smile on anyone’s face. You’re sure to hear stories about old-time players. If you want to go the extra mile, inquire in advance about having a personalized message displayed on the scoreboard. Bring the camera and create a day-at-the-ballpark photo album.
Keep it green
Tending to plants and gardening is a pleasurable pastime. Don’t let physical impairments like arthritis put an end to tending to plants. Raised beds and window boxes are ideal for gardeners who find going outdoors difficult. A child’s wagon or wheelbarrow makes an attractive movable garden. Purchase modified gardening tools that are especially designed to assist those who have difficulty with grasping, cutting, and digging motions. Place heavy container potted plants on wheeled wooden pallets for easy mobility.
Offer to give the bathroom a safety makeover. If you’re handy, install grab bars for the bathtub and toilet, non-slip pads for the tub, door grippers, and a non-skid bath mat. For a special touch, purchase a decorative night-light that displays a photograph of family, friends, pets or a favorite place.
Feed the birds
Place bird feeders and birdbaths in visible locations around the yard, deck or patio or attached to the outside of a picture window to make it easy for them to enjoy from their favorite chair. Spend time discussing the different types of birds you are most likely to see. Purchase a bird reference guide to help identify each species.
Stay in touch
Create a personalized telephone directory. Practical and caring, this is a gift that reminds them that family and friends are always nearby. Purchase a small three-ring binder. In large type, list the contact information for family, friends, and service providers such as the beauty operator and local movie theatre. Customize the cover of the binder and use colorful index tabs to separate the information. Display emergency contacts and telephone numbers in the front of the book. Update the information as needed.
Time it right
You’ve heard of book-of-the-month, now there’s YOU once a month. Decide on something you can realistically do for your parents on a monthly basis – from organizing the closet to computer lessons. Create a beautiful card and insert 12 coupons with promises of special activities for the year ahead.
Talk about it
Start a book-discussion group that meets monthly at your elder’s house. Invite friends and neighbors. Beyond books, the group can discuss poems, short stories, movies, and bible verses. If reading books is difficult, check out books on tape and videos from the local library.
Take them to work
Work sites come alive when children accompany their parents to work. Why not share this important part of your life with your older family members? Won’t they beam with pride as you introduce them to co-workers? Keep the visit short, perhaps during lunch hours since spending the entire day may be too tiresome for both of you. Take pictures of this memorable outing.
Fitness centers that cater to people 50 and older make working out together more enjoyable since programs and services are tailored to meet the needs of the older mind and body. Purchase a joint membership and attend classes together on a regular basis.
Ham it up
Performing together in a community theatre production is nothing less than fun and invigorating. From auditioning and attending rehearsals to opening night, this is one experience that will be talked about for years to come. Get a copy of the final production on video, and enjoy your performance over and over again.
Work it out
Do you have a work conference coming up in your near future? Consider taking your Mom or Dad with you. These days, juggling work/life responsibilities is not easy, and employers are beginning to see the benefits of encouraging employees to combine work travel with family vacations. They know how difficult it may be for you to get away, and bringing your favorite family members with you might be a “win-win” solution. While you’re off to a workshop, your parents can shop or relax by the pool.
Reprinted with permission from Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner (revised and updated, 2009, Random House). Everything you need is in this book. Time- and money-saving checklists, worksheets, websites, step-by-step action plans, low-cost resources, and questions to ask professionals—an essential resource for anyone struggling with the many challenges that face today’s caregivers.
Joy Loverde is a popular keynote speaker for a variety of audiences. She has been featured on the Today Show, CBS Early Show, National Public Radio, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Consumer Reports. For more information visitwww.elderindustry.com.