Left to Give?
to shop for the really, really old folks on your list
typical gift-giving challenge is “What do you get for the
person who has everything?” But even the typical answers to
that question don’t quite fit the bill when it comes to shopping
for super-elderly relatives. Many are in assisted-living facilities
or living in their family’s spare room, so they don’t have
much space for decorative things or use for gadgets. They
probably have limited diets, so gourmet foods can be tough.
If they like scarves, they’ve probably been given one every
year for decades.
But it’s not hopeless. Here are some thoughtful ways to give
the 90-somethings in your life some holiday cheer.
memories. OK, it sounds hokey, but if I make it to my
90s, I plan to spend plenty of time mooning over pictures
of a time before it was 80 degrees year round. Pillage attics
and storage lockers and go around to the other relatives to
collect as many old photos as you can. Slides are even better,
since no one hauls out the slide projector any more. Home
movies are the motherlode. Organize them into some kind of
reasonable order, and take them to your local camera shop
or videographer and have them put on a DVD. Or, if that’s
too pricey, buy a slide scanner and some DVD-burning software
and spend a few sleepless nights scanning and touching up
photos and slides yourself. Bonus points if you can arrange
to be present and listening when the DVD is first viewed.
nostalgia. You know that candy, that game, that hot breakfast
cereal, that kind of soap, that Christmas album, and the old-fashioned
kind of cheese slicer that your great aunt always reminisces
about? It’s not guaranteed, but chances are you can find one
of them out there in the world still. Take surreptitious notes
on your next visit as she’s storytelling (it’ll help you look
alert, too). Then hit the antique shops and the used book
stores. Hit eBay. Hit the online versions of the Vermont Country
Store and Lehman’s, both of which specialize (in different
ways) in selling new copies of things from bygone eras. It’ll
hardly matter how useful the thing is in the present if it
prompts those pleased memories.
a little freedom. Especially for folks who are living
in some kind of institution, getting out is hard. They can’t
drive any more. Buses are unpredictable and may not come close
enough. Even small trips can be tiring. Make a promise to
take them out—to the park, to the mall, for a meal, to see
another relative or friend. It doesn’t have to be a fancy
night on the town, and in fact probably shouldn’t be. If you’re
not local and can’t make such an offer, usually there’s some
nearby restaurant that your favorite elderly person can get
to on foot, using their building’s shuttle, or through a local
senior transportation service. Find out what it is, and get
them some gift certificates for it. Don’t choose a “better”
restaurant farther away. That is distinctly not the point.
a little comfort. At some age we stop expecting that people
have a right to feel good in their bodies. It’s stereotypical
that old people are just a bag of health complaints. Turn
this on its head by scheduling an in-home massage or spa treatment.
Seek out a provider who has experience with older people,
and be sure that your gift recipient knows she can speak up
about what she wants and doesn’t want.
a little distraction. Large-print versions are only published
of the most best-selling books. To expand horizons, go in
back some communication. If you’re old, you have hearing
loss. It’s inevitable. Shouting can be tiring on all involved,
but a little bit of sign language can go a long way to easing
communication as the ears start to tune out. It won’t work
too well for retelling the stories of yore, but it can get
the basics across, which can be a great relief. As a gift
idea, this is touchy to implement: Some older folks will find
it fascinating and useful and enjoy the challenge; others
might feel they’ve earned the right not to learn new tricks.
You be the judge. If it seems like a good idea for the person
on your list, look into an introductory ASL DVD and/or flashcards.
Also get them for anyone in the family who visits on a regular
basis. Watching the DVD together could even give you something
to do in that lull after the holiday meal.
a little connection. E-mail and YouTube may (or may not)
be a stretch for your favorite old person, but if they have
a computer at all and you can set them up with a Web cam and
a VOIP account so that they can get a periodic gander at the
grandkids without anyone having to truck across the country,
chances are they’ll learn to make that work.
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