Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Caregiver Considerations for the Holidays: Part 2 - Gifts for Seniors

Finding gifts for seniors is hard. I've always been amazed by the way many seniors have simplified their lives, many without realizing they're doing it. In part it comes from the comfort of falling into daily living routines. Developing routines is often a luxury caregivers, specially those with children, rarely have so it can be a difficult concept for some to grasp. Seniors also have a way of simplifying the things around them. Even the 'pack rat' types tend to use the same tools for daily living, whether they enjoy being surrounded by the 'stuff' of their past, or not. So they don't 'need' or 'want' another kitchen or gardening tool, and some are frankly so picky, they won't wear the new slippers you buy them because they aren't just like the worn out comfy ones they wear now. The 'new isn't always better' mindset often challenges those purchasing gifts for their beloved seniors. For many seniors, novelty items like IPads and cell phones truly don't have the joy that a new pair of socks do. It's hard for those of us managing with our younger 'gadget' generation to imagine.  It's also hard when we ourselves still like modern surprises to appreciate the simplicity of new socks in the favorite brand we've always worn. So what do you give your beloved senior?  Here are a few ideas:

Spend time thinking about your loved one's lifestyle: 

Some are loathe to admit that finances are tight. Some are up front about it. In either case, you can identify ways to meet the needs of daily living if you're willing to look for them. There's where you can help by gifting to meet needs but in a way that maintains dignity. 
  • Does Dad complain about the price of his favorite snacks?  Make him a basket of his favorite goodies.  Put it in a small laundry basket he can carry when you notice he has trouble managing the large one. 
  • Does Gran avoid going shopping with you when she used to love to pick out clothes?  It may be that she doesn't have the money or mobility she used to, or both. Give her a gift card for the store along with a handmade coupon for the ride to get there. You've met needs (for financial and mobility support) while letting her maintain her dignity. 
  • Does Mom often 'run out' of necessary household items then have to scramble for change to reimburse you when you pick them up (or not offer to do so at all?).  Then a gift card to a store is a good thing and think of throwing in the gas money and time to get her there. 
  • Who doesn't bemoan the cost of gas?  It may not seem like a 'real' gift, but a gasoline card can give your beloved senior the freedom to go somewhere he or she has wanted to go.
  • Gift certificates for movies, art classes, or ticket to a theatre show in town may give your loved one the luxury of entertainment they've not considered for themselves because they aren't part of their daily living routine.  Such gifts can give them a refreshing change of pace.
  • Have you noticed that no one in the family will eat Aunt Sue's cake anymore because of the cat hairs in it? (Really, that's happened- Aunt Sue forgets that the cat sleeps on the counter and can no longer see the cat hairs!) Tell Aunt Sue you'd like to give her the gift of doing some baking for her this year. Set a time where you come to her house and she provides the ingredients. You clean up the kitchen and cat hairs while baking with her. The time together as well as the pride she has by bringing that cake to the family gathering (or garden club meeting) is a gift (for all!).  Make a cute gift certificate for it - box it and wrap it!
  • Is cleaning the house a chore?  Surprise mom with a gift certificate for a carpet cleaning, or your own coupon book for chores that are likely easy for you to do but most difficult for her.  Consider coupons for: cleaning out the fridge, organizing cupboards, dusting the ceiling fans, replacing light bulbs, and attic organizing days. For your own sanity but a fun but important note across the bottom:  this coupon is valid only with 1 week's notice of redemption. 
  • Does Mom forget important dates? Don't just give her a calendar, put the important family dates in it for her!
  • For caregivers, giving the gift of time off-duty is priceless and becomes a two way gift. The giver and recipient both benefit.  One woman, caring for an ailing husband, had health challenges herself. The woman's son brought her Christmas decorations out of the attic, but did not offer time to put them up. The friend, who'd wanted to find a way to help, offered to come put up the tree and 'watch' the husband, while her caregiving friend ran some needed errands. Though not wrapped in a box with a bow, this was definitely a gift. Offering caregiving friends respite coupons for a couple of hours at time is priceless.  
When it comes to giving gifts to seniors, it's not about the gadgets, the cost, or even the novelty of thought.  Being aware enough of their world and its needs is gift in itself.  And if all else fails... try the socks.

Best wishes to all for very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!