The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us, and we think about finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list.  But, what do we give to the older members of the family, especially those who are frail or disabled? Gift-giving for older adults can be a challenge.

The most valuable gift is your time.  Set aside time during the holidays to visit with the older family member. This will provide an opportunity to engage in conversation and reminisce about the past. You might even learn something new about your relatives! Take your family member for a walk, play music or bring food to share.  Giving of your time can be a special gift for both of you.

In addition to time, everyone enjoys unwrapping a holiday package. For the person who is confined to a chair or wheelchair, consider a small blanket to cover her lap and legs. Warm slippers or comfortable socks are always appreciated, as are cozy pajamas. In addition, there are many varieties of wheelchair cushions that can be purchased on-line or at a medical supply store. A cushion for the chair or wheelchair can provide a whole new world of comfort for an older adult.

Items that encourage participation and engagement are beneficial not only for the older adult, but also for those who provide care. Such gifts include magazine or newspaper subscriptions, large print playing cards, or talking books. Recorded music is always a hit, especially tunes from the individual’s younger years.

Consider awakening the senses when providing gifts for older individuals. Lotion or scented soaps help the individual to feel special. Remember that the lavender scent can be calming, while the smell of citrus may improve mental clarity. Dry shampoo is a helpful gift for those who are physically limited. And lip balm is always needed in colder weather.

Other gift ideas include:

  • A new calendar with large pictures and family dates clearly marked.
  • A dry erase board to hang in the person’s room for messages and instruction.
  • Gift cards for a massage or a haircut and style
  • Blooming plants
  • Favorite foods. Always check with family or facility staff prior to offering food, to assure that there are no restrictions. For the individual who lives in his own home, consider making arrangements to have meals delivered on a regular basis.
  • A photo album or framed enlargements of family pictures. If the person has memory issues, label the pictures with individual names.
  • A bird feeder to hang outside the window
  • A large clock
  • An adult coloring book with a container of colored pencils
  • A Scrapbook filled with memories from the person’s life
  • A night light
  • Colorful mobiles to hang in the window
  • Comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing

The holidays are a special time to recognize and honor the older members of the family. A personal gift from the heart will have special meaning for those who are frail or isolated this season.

Kate Caldwell, Gerontologist

Founder of ElderTree Care Management Services