Gifts to Give Your Older Relatives that will be Meaningful and Appreciated

By: Debra R. Drelich, LMSW, ACSW, CMC


Holidays and birthdays are often celebrated with gift giving for both the young and old. Television, radio and the internet provide gift suggestions from all the latest ‘must haves’ for the younger set- but little is out there in the world of media  to suggest practical and fun, gift giving ideas for older people.  Gift giving offers an opportunity to provide loved ones with items that they might possibly be unable to obtain on their own- due to limitations in their mobility or finances.

Here are some suggestions for ‘do’s and don’ts’ that might make your gift planning easier and in the end more meaningful and more  appreciated. To begin, think about these questions in relation to your relative:

•Does he or she have a special hobby that they still enjoy- for example knitting, gardening or reading?

•Do they have a preference for a certain type of clothing or item? (For example do they have a penchant for purple clothing- I have a client who does!) Or perhaps they have a favorite perfume?

•Do they enjoy going on outings that are either too tiring to do on their own, or are too expensive on their fixed income?

•Is there a special product that is difficult for them to obtain- because it is not easily available ? (For example, a specific brand of make up or a favorite food item)

•Is there a piece of furniture or equipment for their home that would be useful?  (For example, a ‘lift chair”- (looks like a recliner chair but has an electric mechanism that easily lifts them to standing) which is available from home care supply companies. Perhaps just a new sitting chair with arms would enable them to more easily get  to standing position.


Here are some specific gift ideas that might work for you:

•An electric hot pot/ water heater with an automatic cut off switch might provide a safer and easier way of having that cup of afternoon tea. If the relative suffers from minor memory impairment, this reasonably priced gift can allow them greater independence. Another similar gift that is both useful and safety promoting is a toaster oven with an automatic turn off feature (it shuts off when a certain temperature is reached after a few minutes).  Forgetting to shut off kettles or burning food in the oven can be a serious safety concern and it is often recommended that stoves be disconnected when these symptoms occur.

•Give your relative (and yourself) a gift of safety and peace of mind- a Personal Emergency Response system. A “PERS” is an electronic device designed to summon help in an emergency.  These wonderful systems are available for a small monthly fee and have saved the lives of many a shut-in.

•A new shirt or blouse might be welcomed by a shut-in who cannot get out to shop any longer. Do however take a peek at what they already have- perhaps your cousins and siblings have had the same idea for a number of holidays!  A client once showed me an entire drawer filled with different shades of blue cardigans and multiple ties. (all gifts from loving nieces and nephews!)

•An ongoing once a month delivery of a fruit basket or fresh flowers is sure to be appreciated by all, and will brighten their day upon delivery.  This idea is particularly easy as a “one size fits all” suggestion and you do not have to even leave the comfort of your office to arrange it!

•A periodical such as a magazine, or large print newspaper subscription can keep the person connected with their outside world. The New York Times offers a popular large print edition that arrives in the mail weekly.

•A small in-home garden kit would bring a big smile to a serious gardener who suffers from arthritis – which might prevent them from getting out and tilling the soil on their hands and knees.

•Talking books provide people who are visually impaired the opportunity to enjoy books and magazines on tape.  Book shops and on line book sellers offer thousands of titles which can be downloaded to an iPod, or played on a CD player.  The Library of Congress offers a free lending library of Braille and audio materials to people who are registered.  You can register your relative at  Another option for someone who loves to read and cannot get to the library is an electronic book reader such as the Kindle. The Kindle allows readers to choose books, newspapers or magazines to download with the click of a button,  can adjust the font size as needed, and can actually read the text to your loved one.


The last gift idea is the gift of your time.  An outing with a family member could be the most enjoyable gift of all to the older person.  The outing could be as simple as going out for a cup of coffee or a walk in the park, to something grander such as seeing a remake of a musical.  Remember, it is not the amount of money that is spent on the gift, but rather a combination of the thought and that went into it and its usefulness.  A 97 year old client once commented to me that the blender with the ‘twenty year guarantee’ was somewhat ironic and frivolous. Choose wisely and your gift will brighten their special day.



•Debra Drelich, is a Geriatric Care Manager who practices in Riverdale, Manhattan and Westchester.  She serves as the President of the Greater NY Chapter of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.  She can be reached via her