Aging Well: Easy gift ideas for older family and friends

Older relatives and friends can present the biggest challenge when it comes to buying gifts during the holidays. After all, most have downsized to smaller living spaces and typically don't need more "stuff."

"The gifts I like are visits," said Bob Myers, a resident at The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden. He echoed the sentiment of most Haven residents when asked about their favorite holiday gifts.

"I told my daughter and family not to get me anything : mostly they come to see me - that's the important thing," Lydia Rader said.

Of course, families or friends still like to bring tokens of their affection when they visit or send a little something to let someone know they are in their thoughts.

Like anyone, older adults appreciate items that are useful, engaging or meaningful. Talking Books (a type of audio book), adaptive or safety aids and trips to Hawaii were among Haven residents' suggestions.

Adaptive products

If a tropical vacation isn't in the cards this year, there are plenty of products that make everyday tasks and hobbies easier and safer for individuals experiencing vision or hearing loss, arthritis and other conditions.

Deb Dunaway is familiar with many of these products through her work as coordinator of VizAbilities, a support and learning group for people with vision and hearing loss in Routt and Moffat counties.

She noted a variety of handy kitchen items, such as an ergonomic multi-tool that opens different lids, reversible cutting boards with black or white surfaces for contrast and utensils with built up handles to make tasks less painful for arthritic hands.

Many adaptive aids have a technological element that might overwhelm some older adults, but with the help of family or friends these items can improve seniors' lifestyles.

"There's a lot of gadgetry out there that they wouldn't know how to choose," Dunaway said.

Popular items include special headsets (also known as "marriage savers") that pick up TV signals and allow users to adjust the volume without disrupting family or neighbors.

People with vision loss benefit from a variety of "talking" gadgets such as talking scales that can help them monitor their weight without making a special trip to the doctor.

Higher ticket items include exercise equipment as well machines that scan printed material and read it back to the user, Dunaway said.

Tools and aids also can make a person's hobbies or pastimes more enjoyable. Computer users, for example, may need large print or contrast keyboards, ergonomic mice or screen magnifiers.

Avid gardeners might like a kneeler stool, which has a thick foam pad to protect knee joints and hand grips that make it easier to get up. Ergonomic pruners, hand tools and gardening gloves that reduce hand fatigue also are available.

While useful, many adaptive items look like everyday things so the person using them doesn't feel self-conscious or incapable, Dunaway said.

If you are unsure of what to purchase, she suggested talking to a friend of the person you are buying for to see if that person has mentioned anything that has been particularly frustrating or annoying.

It's also helpful to think of what you would find useful in your own life.

"If it will help you it will help them 100 times more," Dunaway said.

Maxi Aids (www.maxiaids.com), Independent Living Aids (www.independentliving.com) and LS & S (www.lssproducts.com) all offer a variety of adaptive products.

Keeping the mind active

Families can help older family members stay mentally active with large print puzzles and playing cards and versions of their favorite games such as Scrabble. These types of items are available at www.seniorstore.com.

Relatives having problems reading will appreciate help applying for the Talking Book program. All states have Talking Book libraries, which provide equipment and special audio books to eligible individuals through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Qualifying individuals may order books through the mail or online. The national collection includes fiction and nonfiction, religious literature and popular magazines. The program also offers Braille materials. For information, visit www.loc.gov/nls/.

From the heart

Many people align themselves with causes or organizations addressing a need or problem in the world. Those who are adamant about not wanting gifts may instead appreciate a donation made in their name to their favorite nonprofit or to a project in line with their values.

For ideas, visit Alternative Gifts International (www.alternativegifts.org). Each year, the organization compiles a catalog of worthy projects, from treating children with cancer in Africa to restoring watersheds in Afghanistan.

AGI rigorously screens organizations for selection, and those chosen agree to dedicate 100 percent of gifts to their projects.

Of course, some of the most meaningful gifts don't involve money. Handmade cards and crafts, especially from grandchildren (think pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed for the bird lover), are among the most prized gifts for older adults.

"Those are about the only things they go on and on about - they are going to brag about stuff like that," Dunaway said.

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