Buying gifts for elderly parents isn’t always simple

When your parents or other important older people in your life have already downsized and simplified, finding them a gift that will be truly appreciated can be difficult.

Here are some ideas for thoughtful presents that go just a little beyond your presence alone.

To health and happiness

A reader asks: My parents are in their 70s, and I never know what to give them for a gift. Is there something I can give that is healthy or helpful for them?

The doctor answers: Choosing gifts for a parent can be very difficult. Instead of trying to fill up their already-full closet, try finding a gift that might promote their health and happiness.

As people get older, they may value something that is practical rather than something material. Many people take pride in keeping a neat home, especially for company, but with arthritis or instability, cleaning is often difficult.

Consider hiring help. Someone could help with shoveling snow, salting the driveway, cooking meals, or doing the laundry. Installing a home security system can also go a long way toward helping those who live alone to feel more safe.

One of the largest risks in the winter is falls — either outside on ice and snow, or inside on rugs, blankets, or in soft slippers. Many people shuffle along in their slippers, or run around the house with relatives, inevitably tripping over things. Instead of slippers, consider well-made shoes with sturdy soles. Also try coverings for the bottom of shoes or boots that provide traction on the snow. (One brand is called Yaktrax.) For indoors, try getting carpet tape or non-slip rug pads so that the rugs don’t slip and cause a risk for falls.

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Don’t get me wrong… these gifts likely won’t evoke a glimmer of joy in her eyes. In fact, she may give you the same response that your spouse would give you when unwrapping a pair of rubber gloves and a toilet brush. However, these are things your parents likely won’t get themselves, but that could easily keep them out of the hospital this holiday.

Healthy minds

Also consider something to keep their mind healthy. My grandfather has a subscription to National Geographic. Consider giving a book of riddles or crosswords. How about a 500-piece puzzle to do with the whole family? Or better yet, teach yourself and your older kids to play a game your parents may know, such as dominos, bridge, or sheepshead. Then surprise your parents/grandparents by playing with them. (Your kids might be really impressed when grandpa beats everyone at euchre).

Try inspiring their memory by framing an old family photo, making a traditional family recipe, or planning an outing that you did as a child. For those who are tech savvy, consider making a video collage of photos of your family.

Or, create a new tradition: buy tickets to a play, musical, or show. Most theaters have special seats that are held aside for people with disabilities — both those in wheelchairs, and those with vision or hearing problems.

Looking for something more frugal? One of my patients has a tradition where each family member writes a poem or essay that they read aloud on Christmas to update other family members on main events in their lives.

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Have a safe and healthy Christmas!

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