By Liz Taylor
Special to the Weekly
As the season of gift-giving descends upon us – Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa and Christmas – you might be having trouble thinking of the right present for a frail older person. Among my parents and many clients, I’ve observed that the more impaired we become, the less “stuff” we want. In fact, for people living in small spaces, like a nursing home, assisted living or adult family home, more is less – less wanted and appreciated.
Research shows that the kinds of experiences (and gifts) that make us happy tend to change over time; the older we are, the more we prefer the ordinary. When we’re young and expect to live a long time, we prefer unusual things that excite us. But when our time is more limited, the emphasis is on savoring what we already have, on what’s most meaningful.
What’s most meaningful isn’t usually a gadget or a tie or a new sweater (unless it’s really needed), but experiences. And it’s better if you (and other family members) come with them. It can be hard — even when you live close — to get the family together for an older person’s holiday, and sometimes you just can’t. But here are some ideas that might fill the bill or inspire you to come up with some meaningful gifts on your own.
Begin by putting yourself in a frail older person’s place – what’s more lacking than easy access to stores, thrift stores and even the internet (if not internet-savvy)? Items most of us take for granted can be hard to obtain, especially when one stops driving. Pretty soaps, stationery and stamps, colognes and special foods like good cheeses, nuts or wine might be welcome.
Think hand-made. A calendar of family photos for every month of the year, a quilt for the wall, a compilation of grandkids’ drawings, a crocheted lap rug, a fabric basket to carry things in on a walker (make sure it’s washable). A home-cooked meal.
What might an older person enjoy all year round? Ideas: a subscription to a newspaper or magazine; a hummingbird feeder – with food; favorite music on tapes or taped messages from family members who can’t visit; a book of Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
For the visually impaired, there are many sources of helpful gifts. From our local library comes large print books, audio books and loaned equipment, as well as musical instruments. The Washington Talking Books and Braille Library offers free, tax-supported access to a wide variety of magazines and books, plus the equipment to play them on anywhere in our state, at 800-542-0866 or www.wtbbl.org. For a wealth of devices for visually impaired persons, be sure to check out SightConnections, at 206-525-5556 or www.SightConnections.com.
When your fingers and eyes don’t work as well as they used to, who wouldn’t like easy-wear, easy-care clothes, underwear, shoes and gadgets designed for people with disabilities? A long-time clothing company with excellent customer service in Seattle is Buck and Buck, at 800-458-0600 or www.buckandbuck.com.
Whatever you do, I hope your holiday is peace-filled.