Giving a gift to a friend or family member who has moved into a senior living community can be a bit tricky. The “usual” gifts – such as perfumes, flowers, or food – can actually impact the medical conditions of your loved one or their neighbors. And with space at a premium, any new knick knack needs to be carefully considered, must serve a purpose (sometimes more than one!), and take up as little room as possible.
We know everyone is different in their interests, activities, and comfort level with electronics*. So we’ve provided a number of ideas to help you find just the right gift for your friend or family.
1. Pamper them!
There is a multitude of ways that we can offer self-care to ourselves, and a great gift for our aging loved ones is to pamper them, by giving them ways to pamper themselves. While a day at the spa is a wonderful gift, so is a personal massager like a personal Shoulder Massager or Shiatsu Foot Massager. Speaking of feet, if suffering from diabetes, perhaps your elder would love a heated foot rest, or some fancy lotion to help them relax and possibly improve circulation in their feet.
Baths are another great way to get some relaxation in, and if your loved one enjoys long soaks, perhaps you could send them a nice set of luxurious bath salts, or a fluffy robe and warm slippers.
2. A Stationary “Kit”
This is a simple way to help loved ones stay in touch with their friends and family. You can easily find a beautiful stationery set online, with many options so you can find the one that is the perfect fit for your loved one. Whether you choose to go with an understated design or instead pick a beautiful and ornate stationary set – you are sure to please. If you are a little more tech savvy, you can also order customized stationary as a gift, including stationary that has your loved one’s personal pictures printed on it, like at VistaPrint.com.
If you’re on a budget, or if you have small kids that you want to create a personalized gift with, this is a great option as well. With a few items from your local dollar store, you can easily put together a gorgeous stationary kit in a lovely personalized box. Simply grab some envelopes, select a pretty paper (these stores often have a whole section devoted to crafts, including decorative papers), and some pretty stamps, and put it all in a storage box you can decorate with your little ones. This is a great way to give your loved one something to enjoy throughout the year as they look at it and think of you, in addition to being a useful object to keep around their house.
3. An Address Book…with elbow grease.
A perfect sequel (or prequel) to your stationary kit: the address book. This is another option that you can easily (and for little money) create at home with your family, gifting your loved one with a sweet memento to remember their family by, as well as providing a fun activity for everyone to enjoy.
If you prefer to buy an address book online, you can choose from a variety of designs- from books with covers displaying a work of art, to a classic “Little Black” or “Little Pink” book! Of course, the best part is if you schedule an afternoon to help the gift-recipient “fill-in” your present. (If your friend or family member is anything like most, they have an address book filled with years of crossed-out numbers and stuffed with little slips of paper!) A few hours of your time will be much appreciated – and who knows – you might find a long-lost relative tucked among the pages!
4, 5 and 6: Pictures, of course!
Pictures really are worth a thousand words – and at least three of our top-ten spots.
Electronic Picture Frame
Consider an electronic picture frame to share lots of pictures in a very small space. If your loved one is good with technology they can download new pictures directly from the online photo manager. For everyone else, consider a frame that allows you to switch out a standard photo card – and buy two. That way you can start a “picture swap”, exchanging cards every few months.
Front Loading Frame
If you’ve never seen this relatively new type of frame it’s worth a look-see. They have a front “door” that opens to allow art to be swapped in and out on a whim. It’s the perfect frame to display artwork from grandchildren or a seasonal family picture! Seniors struggling with tender joints in their hands might have a difficult time with a traditional read-loading photo frame, and be unable to change pictures or could drop the glass when trying, causing a hazard- this option is great for preventing those struggles.
Photo Shirts, Bags, and Pillows
A fun and simple gift project perfect for kids and adults alike: print your photos at home on magnetic sheets; or print directly onto iron-on paper to make a photo T-shirt, canvas bag, or pillow into a personalized gift. Websites like Shutterfly.com, SnapFish.com, and Walgreens Photo (which offers same-day pickup) often have sales on photo gifts, as well as prints- you can upload your images to their website easily online and quickly order an awesome photo gift, as well as a ton of prints, if you also want to try your hand at our next idea.
7. Continuing on a theme…the scrapbook.
To be fair, this gift could probably fit squarely under the photo category. But it depends on how creative you want to get (and how much time you have to spend). Album types abound, and anything from a small brag book to a fully personalized scrapbook will be cherished by all. If your gift recipient has a shoebox full of photos – and you have a weekend morning to help organize – you are sure to hear a memorable story or two! (Bring an album with labels, and consider capturing the conversation via audio recorder for future generations!)
Legacy-building has been shown to improve wellbeing in aging seniors, whether they face the risk of isolation, dementia, or simply miss their families more as they get older. Scrapbooking with an elder can provide a valuable memento of their life stories, as well as improve their lives by increasing quality time they get to spend with their precious loved ones. In recent studies regarding the theory that legacy-building activities are positive health factors for elders, it was found that breathing difficulties diminished among seniors who participate in legacy-building activities, and caregiver stress was greatly improved as well.
Here are some tips to creating a scrapbook that is aging-friendly and will be a treasured gift for your beloved elders:
- Elders often face difficulties with vision as they get older, so use bold, large fonts
- Because it can get harder to think as we age due to various health issues, we want to make sure to keep scrapbook pages uncluttered- simplicity is best, so stick to one theme per page and remember that with scrapbooks, the bigger the better, so just add extra pages if you need more room to express your memories!
- Be sure to carefully mark the date and names of people in the pictures- this can help elders hold on to their memories if they begin to struggle with Alzheimer’s disease
- Add memorabilia that isn’t a photo, like movie tickets, raffle tickets, recipe cards, newspaper clippings, birthday cards, wedding invitations, or birth announcements
8. Ready, set, go! An Activity Calendar to bring them a year full of fun
Activities of all variety are the spice of life in a senior living community. An activity calendar is one of those gifts that will vary dramatically in format depending on your audience – everything from a wall planner or handheld book to an electronic planner or app may work. Do-it-yourselfers will want to set it up for their own needs…but for everyone else consider filling in the next month or two from the community’s online activity calendar.
A perfect gift idea for an elderly loved one in a retirement community is to make them a special activity board to help them keep track of their community’s happenings, and other helpful information. You can buy a large whiteboard and help them hang it, or print out a years worth of calendar pages with space at the bottom of each page for notes. If you want to make your loved one a photo calendar, you can visit sites like Mixbook.com, who often offers specials online for items such as photo gifts.
A handmade or custom calendar is a neat way to personalize a gift for your loved one, as well as help them find things to look forward to over the next coming year. In your personalized activity calendar, don’t forget to include helpful information spaces such as:
- Space for each day, so that your elder can write in their upcoming appointments
- Notes such as what holidays are coming up to prepare for
- Phone numbers and the names of any primary care doctors
For seniors facing the risk of isolation, having things to look forward to throughout the week and year can be a boon to their mood, especially when they see all the fun activities you have planned to do with them.
9. The MUCH Appreciated Gift Card
We all know how much fun it is to find that “perfect thing” and indulge ourselves. Gift cards allow the recipient to do just that. Plus, deliveries are a treat for folks of any age. Just check first to make sure they have internet access for the shopping experience (many communities have computer centers and free internet). You have many options on how to deliver your gift card – email, snail mail, or print it off yourself and bring it by “personal courier” (always appreciated)! If you choose this option and want to try to save some extra cash on your purchase, check out a warehouse outlet like Costco, or look for sales on gift cards in your local drug and grocery stores, where store rewards can often be earned by spending money on gift cards there.
If a gift card isn’t your style, and you would like a bit more creativity in your gift-giving, consider trying your hand at some neat money art that you can easily place inside of a gift box or greeting card. Impress your loved ones with a pretty surprise like a twenty-dollar bill folded up into a shirt and tie tucked inside of a tiny shirt box, or several easy-to-fold roses made out of dollar bills.
10. Drum roll, please… The KINDLE
We saved the Kindle for last for a few reasons. Yes, it’s super cool, but it’s also a bit more expensive than the other things on our list. Consider your audience when choosing your Kindle style – everything from their love (or hate) of electronics and access to WiFi – to how they will use it (for reading only or 24/7 web access).
A few things to think about when gifting electronics to a not so tech-savvy senior.
- Look for large, clearly labeled buttons
- The fewer options the better (limit the need for scrolling through sub-menu options)
- Clear directions are important (play, delete, etc.)
And consider developing your own “quick reference” set of instructions – using language your friend or loved one will be comfortable with. Include pictures of the steps wherever possible. Have someone who has never used the equipment review your instructions for simplicity. And keep product information on hand so you can “pull-up” info online – and act as phone tech-support when needed! See a complete breakdown of tablets in our article on Best Tablets for Seniors.