Buying gifts for seniors, whether your parents or another special person in your life, always seems strangely difficult, even as it feels more vital and urgent—and I think I’ve figured out why.
They’ve had a lifetime to accumulate things. More than that, though, I’m always worried about getting something that seems too common, too basic, and not weighted with the thoughtfulness they deserve. There is so much I want to express with my gifts—love, appreciation, respect, a quiet thanks for everything they’ve done through the years—that tossing an Amazon gift card into an envelope seems almost inappropriate. But, through a series of gift giving fiascos, I’ve learned something that is a bit counterintuitive: it’s not just the thought that counts.
OK, the thought does count. Giving someone a gift is a great way to demonstrate that you love them, that you care about them, and that you’re thinking of them. Many older adults are scared of loneliness, and can feel isolated, so even a small token of appreciation and love can brighten a day. So, the thought counts, of course, but it especially counts if the gift demonstrates real thoughtfulness. Getting someone a gift is great, but it’s much better if you get them something that they need or genuinely want. Recognizing this has made gift-buying a lot less stressful for me. So, here are a few gift-giving ideas for seniors, so that you can show them the love you feel.
Gifts That Warm, from Heart to Toes
You know that feeling when you come in from the cold, into a warm house, and you start to feel that warmth seep deliciously into your body? I can never decide if I’m getting warm from the inside out, or the outside in. It’s just a slow-spreading pleasant tingle.
That’s why I love buying cozy gifts for the seniors in my life. When people get older, their metabolism tends to slow. That’s just science, and an inevitability of aging. But giving them something warm and helpful can be a way to show that you care about their comfort, and a way to have that warmth spread throughout their body. A gift like that creates the feeling of plunging indoors from a snowy day, and feeling like you’re coming alive.
A few ideas for warming gifts include:
- Socks. I love warm socks—instant coziness. I’ve noticed that older generations tend to stick with pretty basic white socks, usually cotton. When I first gave my parents warm, wool socks, they were surprised, but, after trying them on, became very appreciative. Now that’s all they like to wear! And, socks can have just as much style as anything else you wear.
- Smart thermostats. Staying on our theme of all things warm, a smart thermostat is one that learns the habits of a home, adjusting itself to the time of day, occupancy of the residence, and personal patterns. One of the most popular, the Nest, saves money and increases energy efficiency while keeping a house at the right temperature for the comfort of an older adult. For people on a budget, HVAC experts think you can recoup the initial cost of a smart thermostat in as little as a year!
- Scarves. When my grandmother’s arthritis made it too hard for her to sew or knit, we started buying her scarves, cowls, and other accessories she used to make for herself. We bought pretty bland ones, strictly functional—for some reason, it took us years to remember that she was a person who made amazingly creative scarves.
That’s important to remember: the practical doesn’t have to be drab. If you’re going to buy a scarf, buy a pretty one that’ll make them happy to wear it. Being older doesn’t mean someone stops caring altogether about looking nice.
Practical Gifts That Are Anything but Boring
In some ways, we live in an incredible time for the elderly, maybe one of the best times in history. The tools available to make lives easier, more productive, and more independent are astonishing. There’s a multitude of gifts that can address the specific needs of seniors, and show an older loved one that you actually understand their concerns and need for a little help.
I have a neighbor who was having trouble with arthritic hands. It’s really frustrating for him, since he loved tending to the garden in our courtyard. But he was often in a lot of pain and having a hard time holding onto things. So, last Christmas I got him a set of easy-grip gardening tools that allowed him to plant and dig without putting too much strain on his wrists.
While we’re being practical, let’s not forget helping to keep someone healthy and active—it reduces isolation, improves cardiovascular health, increases strength and balance, and helps people lead better lives. Recumbent bikes, treadmills, ellipticals, and more are great ways to encourage health, as well as yoga mats, DVDs, or even gifting a gym membership. These are all practical gifts that are also fun.
Impractical, but Magical, Gifts for a Senior
Of course, there is more to life than just having the basic necessities of warmth and yoga mats. Sometimes, a gift is nice simply because it makes someone happy. These might seem impractical, or unnecessary, but sometimes that makes for the best gifts of all.
There are about a million ways to enjoy music now, from streaming on a smartphone to breaking out the old LPs (record players are back in a big way, and you can order one just about anywhere). Not too long ago, I added my dad to my Spotify family plan so he could find albums and playlists of music from back in his day: a lot of big band, a lot of jazz, and a LOT of Frank.
This was a pretty simple gift, but it gave him a chance to find some music he hadn’t heard in decades. That’s the power of a song: it can transport you back, and make anyone happy. So find a medium, find a distribution method, and find the music the older adult in your life will love.
Obviously, this one depends a lot on circumstance, rules where they live, and personal predilections and ability to take care of a pet. But, pets can be amazing, and an enormous ray of light in the lives of an older adult.
A few years ago, my wife and I got my mom a snake. No fooling: she loves snakes, and always wanted one, so we surprised her one year with a real live North American corn snake. It’s goofy and weird—and makes her happy every day.
Remember when you gave your parents a clay ashtray, even if they didn’t smoke? Well, I suppose I just dated myself there—kids probably don’t make those in art class anymore. Regardless, a handmade gift brought home from school was generally less than professional, or even comprehensible, but was always warmly received.
You can do the same thing now, only better. Home decorations, like personalized signs, can mean so much to an older adult. After all, you’re taking the time to make something for them, something that sends a message, literally, about who you both are, and the bond between you.
Giving a gift is rarely about the gift itself, but about the thoughtfulness behind it. But, when you’re giving to someone older—especially someone who was integral to your life, who raised you, or helped you grow and turn into the person you are—taking thoughtfulness to the next level means so much more.
It means more because it’s unexpected. We all know that it gets harder to get gifts for people as they get older; you’ve probably noticed it in your own life. So when you get an older adult something that will make a difference to them, whether it’s the ability to hear the nearly-forgotten songs that have tripped at the edge of their minds for decades, or a blanket that fights away the cold, you’re making their world warmer. You’re creating a hearth between the two of you. You’re reminding them that now, and always, they truly matter. It’s the gift of appreciation. Even if it isn’t handmade, it is forged in the heart.
Ready to buy the perfect gift to show your love to a senior in your life? Let Elfster help you pick from any of our featured gift guides—and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfster, and on Twitter @Elfster for more gifting and hosting ideas.