Holiday gifts for senior safety and peace of mind

Now’s the time to choose holiday gifts to help seniors live safely at home — and for caregivers who help make that possible. Maybe it’s a security monitor, a fun present or a stimulating class. Caregivers, who give so much of themselves, could also use a holiday boost (even if they’d never ask). Amy Goyer, AARP family and caregiving expert, and Grace Whiting, director of strategic partnerships with the National Alliance for Caregiving, suggest gift ideas people will really appreciate.

Security at Home

Electronic keypad door locks, available online or at home-improvement stores, eliminate worries of losing or forgetting keys. “These locks can be programmed with multiple user codes, put into vacation mode (with all codes locked), and some can be locked or unlocked remotely,” Goyer wrote in an email.

Emergency blackout lights keep people out of the dark. “These lights are also motion-sensor night-lights, and they automatically come on if electricity is lost,” says Goyer, who likes blackout lights that double as portable flashlights.

Audio monitors (the kind parents use with young children) can also make sure a senior’s call for help is heard. Video monitors give extra security when family members have confusion or dementia. “It’s hard to rely solely on an audio monitor when loved ones are moving around a lot at night,” Goyer says. “A video monitor that either has a video screen that comes with it, or which you can view on a computer, tablet or smartphone, is extremely helpful.” A glance lets caregivers know whether someone’s getting out of bed or just turning over.

Gifts for Getting Around

Living at home shouldn’t mean having to stay home. But stairs can be insurmountable for people who rely on wheelchairs or walkers. Suitcase ramps make handy gifts for seniors with limited mobility, Goyer says. “A suitcase ramp is portable and comes with a handle, so it can fold up and easily be moved to different locations if needed,” she explains. “This is a much less expensive option than building a permanent ramp.”

Portable car grab bars/standing aids make maneuvering out of automobiles easier. The bar hooks into the car door frame, where it latches and offers support when people stand to exit, Goyer says: “It can make all the difference, especially when the seats are low.”

Engage and Enjoy

The arts in aging movement offers gift-giving inspiration, including for loved ones with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. “Something that might be really great, especially for people with dementia, is music,” Whiting says. “A lot of research shows that music is one of the art-related interventions that can help people with dementia feel less agitated and more engaged.” Think about a loved one’s favorite band, she suggests, and get him or her a CD or musical DVD to enjoy.

“I would also think about the ability for people to connect online,” Whiting says, giving the example of a virtual art class. For a person with cognitive impairment, a photography class could offer a creative outlet and actually help stave off mental decline. “Think about new skills where it would be fun for them to learn, and they would get socialization with other people,” she says. “Dance classes might be a great move as well.” If you’re not sure, she says, check with family members about appealing activities.

Caregivers on Your List

Be a vacation elf and contribute toward a getaway for a caregiver you know. “Consider gifting them with your frequent flier miles or hotel or credit card rewards points for a vacation,” Goyer says.

A simple, anxiety-free break from caregiving provides a holiday boost. “Pay for a few hours of respite care,” Goyer suggests, “or offer to stay with their loved ones yourself so they can get a break.”

Whiting agrees that these breaks offer many benefits. “The biggest thing caregivers need — that we know helps reduce their burden, alleviates stress and helps them feel like themselves — is respite care,” she says.

A Little Pampering

Caregivers put in so much effort helping loved ones look their best that they may lack energy for themselves. Whiting offers a common example: “You’re in a hospital, and you see two people coming down the hallway, and one person — the older person — looks really well-groomed, and their hair’s perfect. And the person next to them is disheveled. Which one is the caregiver? It’s usually the one that’s all disheveled.”

Even something as simple as a massage, manicure or haircut makes a difference, Whiting says, or a spa gift certificate is a nice mid-range gift. “A lot of people say exercise is one of the things they never get to do,” she adds. Workout classes or a gym membership could give a holiday boost to caregivers who crave some physical activity.

Pitch In

Want to give a useful present? Take on grocery shopping or similar tasks — the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s role, Whiting says. Food gifts are great for enlivening holiday meals, she adds. Sending a fruit basket, fresh vegetable assortment or holiday treats is a thoughtful remembrance.

Gift cards can be just the ticket for caregivers, Whiting says: “Because if you can’t get out of your house very often, and you can’t go shopping out in the world, you can do some of that shopping online.” But be sensitive to card choices, she says. For instance, a gift card to the grocery store might offend some recipients or make them feel different from other shoppers.

Bring Holidays Home

Celebrations and family events can seem out of reach for ailing adults or indispensable caregivers. But you can bring holiday gatherings their way, at least to a degree. First, though, check with the caregiver for special considerations, Whiting advises: “New Year’s fireworks might not work for every person.” Community organizations can help foster festivity, she says, by hosting special events and potlucks.

Caregivers can miss out on religious services, Whiting says, especially in rural areas. “Think about: ‘Is there a way I can help out so that person could attend Christmas Eve mass, or they could go to the synagogue or participate in other services according to their faith?'” she says. “Because that’s another place where people lose their connection.”

Best Present? Your Presence

Social connectivity can get lost among caregiving responsibilities. If you want to give a higher-end gift, smartphones or tablets enable caregivers to connect with others in similar situations, Whiting says.

Many caregivers feel alone and isolated, Whiting says, particularly when their loved one has dementia. Don’t underestimate the value of a genuine conversation, she says, or the value of simply being present. “You don’t have to get something really lavish or expensive to show someone that they’re appreciated,” she says. “People just want to feel like they’re not alone and not being shunned by friends or family. Even a phone call can have a great impact.”

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Holiday Gifts for Senior Safety and Peace of Mind originally appeared on

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