Aging Well: Easy gift ideas for older family, friends |

Aging Well: Easy gift ideas for older family, friends

Tamera Manzanares

Adaptive aids, puzzles and items to keep minds alert are among gifts appreciated by older adults.

Editor's Note: Portions of this article originally were published Nov. 29, 2008. It has been updated for accuracy.

Older relatives and friends may present a challenge when it comes to buying gifts.

After all, most have downsized to smaller living spaces and typically don't need more things. Often, the best gift a person can give an older adult is to spend time with that person. Still, families and friends like to bring tokens of their affection when they visit, or to 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.

Adaptive products

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.

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Deb Dunaway is familiar with many of these products through her work as coordinator of Independent Living Through Technology (formerly VizAbilities), an information and support 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 that pick up television 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 and 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.

Keeping the mind active

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

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

From the heart

Many people align themselves with causes or organizations addressing a need or problem in their communities or worldwide. Those who are adamant about not wanting gifts or are no longer able to dedicate time or money to a cause may appreciate a donation made in their name to their favorite nonprofit organization, or to a project in line with their values.

For ideas, visit Alternative Gifts International at 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, 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.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information, log onto or call 871-7676.

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