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“Not another pair of slippers!”

Give a meaningful gift to your older loved one this holiday season

This time of year many “gift idea” lists circulate on social media. Finding a gift for an older person who has a lot of things can seem challenging, especially if you are thinking about giving another thing. What about giving the gift of clearer thinking, better problem solving, and improved emotional well-being? That’s not so catchy for TV advertisements but is great if you truly would like to give a meaningful gift this holiday season. Here are eight suggestions for meaningful gifts for older adults.

1. Regularly scheduled gatherings. You can pick a regular day each week or month to go to lunch, grab a coffee, play cards at home or take a walk at a park. Keeping this outing on a routinely scheduled day each month helps our loved ones know that we are truly committed and value this time together. Schedules change and life gets busy, but making these outings a priority helps to show your loved ones that you care.

2. A means to virtually connect with family and friends. It might not be possible to physically visit with your loved one, so purchasing an Echo show, a tablet, or a smartphone and setting up a simple means of virtually communicating with voice and video can help loved ones feel more socially and emotionally connected. Providing a simple written or pictorial list of directions to call or receive calls will help to ensure independence and access to loved ones.

3. Record family and personal history. Story-telling is a historically important means of sharing culture and values in a community and family. How better to show your loved ones that you value them and what has made them who they are today than by asking them to share their stories. There are many means to achieve this. Simply, you can purchase an audio recorder and, with their permission, record conversations that you have about your loved one's history. You could also provide prompts and ask your loved one to record their responses and stories individually. More formally, there are online programs that will send your loved one a prompt, that you can personally tailor, via email each week and your loved one can write their experience or response. These responses are then compiled into a book at the end of a period of time.

4. Small book, show, or movie club. You can purchase the same book for you and your loved ones and discuss each chapter or multiple chapters as you read it together. This can be one on one or with multiple members of your family or friend network. Depending on your abilities, you could read the book out loud to your loved one and discuss it or you both could read a certain part of the book separately and then discuss it in person or virtually. Books allow for either visually reading or listening via audiobook depending on time, schedules and abilities. You could do the same with a show, or movie as well. Set a mutual time to watch and then set up a time for connection and discussion around the show or movie you watched.

5. Create new memories related to their interests. What are some hobbies or interests of your loved one? Do they love to travel? Are they interested in various cultures around the world? Do they love woodworking or fashion? Are they interested in quilting or painting? Find various museums, traveling exhibits, local artists, or local playhouses where you can go with your loved one. This allows them to enjoy learning or experiencing something new related to their personal interests.

6. A means of reminiscing. Looking back at pictures and stories of past experiences can bring joy to many people. This can take many forms. There are many programs where you can make a coffee table photo book of a past trip or event, a past year, or something significant that occurred in your loved one’s past. This can simply be a scrapbook of photos, letters, or written stories from yourself, friends, and family. Asking friends and family to write or record a shared story or memory of your loved one that you can compile into a video montage, or a scrapbook will allow your loved one to enjoy those memories over and over. Another option is an electronic photo frame where loved ones and friends can electronically continue to update the pictures that appear in the frame.

7. Facilitate a friend group get-together. Getting together with friends who have different schedules, mobility, and transportation needs gets more challenging as we get older. Providing a ride, helping to coordinate a common time when everyone is free, or ensuring everyone in the friend group has electronic access for a virtual gathering can alleviate some of the challenges of getting your loved one’s friends together. Helping to facilitate a gathering of friends and helping a friends group stay connected either physically or virtually shows that you care about your loved one’s holistic well-being.

8. Start a hobby group. If your loved one enjoys cards, board games, books, or anything else, start a monthly hobby group with your loved one and their friends and family. How much fun would it be to play poker or bingo every third Thursday and hear your loved one, their friends, and their families laugh and enjoy that time together each month!

There is a trend in the above-mentioned ideas, social connection. Social connection makes us all feel good, right? From a cognitive-communication therapist perspective, it does much more than just that. Spending time and connecting with our loved ones physiologically increases the “feel good” chemoreceptors in our brain and increases the electrical connections to improve cognitive and emotional health. As our brain ages, the connections become slower and less effective. Functional, social activities, like having a conversation, reading a book, and reminiscing stimulate these connections and have been proven to improve cognitive functions, self-esteem, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being. In giving gifts of social connection, you are truly helping to improve the cognitive skills and emotional well-being of your loved one. What bigger gift can you give than that!


Juan C. Meléndez Moral, Flor B. Fortuna Terrero, Alicia Sales Galán & Teresa Mayordomo Rodríguez (2015) Effect of integrative reminiscence therapy on depression, well-being, integrity, self-esteem, and life satisfaction in older adults, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10:3, 240-247, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.936968

Kelly, M.E., Duff, H., Kelly, S. et al. The impact of social activities, social networks, social support and social relationships on the cognitive functioning of healthy older adults: a systematic review. Syst Rev 6, 259 (2017).

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