‘Tis the season to decide on holiday gifts for the elders in your family. But what gift to give? Warm slippers? A magazine subscription? Yet another flower arrangement?
This year, strive to think a little deeper.
First and foremost, what seniors really crave is our heartfelt TIME, say most long-term care providers. Loneliness and the longing for family connections is often reported as the #1 personal issue for most elders housed in LTC facilities, and only we can change that. (PS: For the record, emails are not the same as a personal visit; nor are those folders full of your high-res .jpeg photos that they may not have any idea how to download, let alone save and print for later viewing.)
For some, visiting loved ones who reside in assisted living or skilled nursing is an enjoyable event; hey, maybe even fun. But for others, it’s enough to stress out the whole family—the adults wonder, “Will the conversation be awkward? What will we talk about?” while the pre-teens roll their eyes, saying “Do we HAVE to go?”
It’s not always easy, but your personal, face-to-face time is the one gift no one else can ever buy for them. Decide to make visiting your elders a family priority, and make it count—much as you would make wrapping gifts or baking cookies a holiday priority.
That duly noted, here’s another gift idea: This year, forget the fruit basket and give a “memory basket” instead. But by “memory,” I don’t mean giving a basket containing a random book about WWII or The Great Depression. You can be much more creative (and meaningful) by giving gift items that can help your elders connect the “then” and the “now.”
Here are my top five suggestions for this year's gift basket. Feel free to combine some or all of them:
1. Music and Film: What was her favorite song? What movie did he used to watch over and over again? Music is both a powerful memory stimulant and a comfort. Films can be even more powerful. Most senior living communities have CD and DVD players available, if your senior doesn’t have a personal one. Need a compilation CD? Many online outlets (including Amazon.com) sell “compilation CDs” that include the top songs of a specific decade or specific music genre (like jazz or swing). Many famous films and Broadway plays from the 20s and 30s have seen rebirth in recent years: For example, the theater play “Chicago” first appeared in 1926, then launched as a Broadway play in 1975, then was re-introduced to a brand-new generation in a 2002 film. (See the idea?)
2. Hobbies: What favorite hobbies does he/she cherish? “Self-tinkering” can be just as fun and valuable as structured residence-wide activities. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a set of Acrylic paints; or maybe some Balsa wood or craft fabric to play with. If you’re not sure what hobbies your elder is keen on these days, ASK his/her caregiver; they’ll be happy to tell you. After all, Grandpa may have been an avid stamp collector in his 50s, but his current interests may have turned to sports history or art museums these days.