I took care of my grandmother for the last 3 years of her life, and learned first-hand that she had little or no use for the gifts family members and her children were giving her. Oddly enough, you may think that your elderly loved ones are tickled by the new vase you gave them for their fresh flower collection, or the picture frame for their ever-expanding photo collection of the grand kids, but more likely than not, these gifts are going to stay in the original packaging and go straight into storage because they don’t want to go to the trouble of having yet another object in their home to dust and care for. Learn the gifts that will really bring joy into your elderly loved one’s lives based on my personal experience.
My grandma was actually brought to tears when I gave her a home-made git certificate for “lifetime manicures and fingernail painting” for her birthday. She went on and on after all the grand kids and children had left about how she would never find energy to actually utilize the rotating vegetable tray everyone pitched in for, and while I was putting all the gifts away she thanked me profusely for giving her a gift she could actually use. Having me offer to paint her nails and keep them trimmed and maintained (I threw in pedicures for good measure) and knowing I would do it whenever she needed is what she really wanted. I quickly realized that the best gift you can give the elderly is your services and your time.
What my grandma really wanted was someone to offer to clean out her gutters, organize her pantry, offer to bring her firewood to the side of the house, little things she could no longer do and would be greatly relieved to have done. The next time your grandma or grandpa’s birthdays arrive or Christmas comes around, offer to help out around the house or give them a treat that they will truly love. You can present your services in the form of a punch card, like “10 free car washes” or “3 perms”. Of course, you will do these services whenever needed, but the punch card puts a cute humor to the offer.
When you volunteer your time, even if it is poorly accepted at first, believe me, it will be all they talk about to their friends and siblings. My grandma would go on and on about how she was going to shake the rugs herself and didn’t need help, cackling and resisting the entire time about being coddled. Then I would catch her on the telephone bragging to her friends about how great her grandchildren were when they picked pine cones out of her yard, shoveled her walkway, and helped her put her earring backs on. It’s a way they express their independence, but the elderly truly appreciate the help and remember it far longer than they do the pearl necklace you gave them that sits on the bathroom counter for months unworn.
That’s not to say actual gifts don’t help. Gifts like large pens for arthritis sufferers, stamps for writing letters, cell phones with large numbers for emergencies, and magnifying glasses for reading small print are greatly received. Bringing over your grandpa’s favorite candy in a collectible tin, grandma’s favorite herbal teas in a cute container, mugs with large handles for easy gripping (plastic mugs are best for easy lifting as well) are godsends for our aging loved ones. Magnets for the fridge with your kids pictures in them, shoehorns, easy pull-on socks, notepads they can keep next to their phone are excellent gifts as well. Just make sure that along with a batch of your great auntie’s favorite cookies you have a tag that states you will be the first to rake her yard with a smile and she will be greatly tickled.
Gifts that come from the heart and involve helping your loved ones physically are the ones they remember. Even your small children can give their grandparents a card that says they will wipe down the coffee table or shake out the rugs. My little brother and sister loved giving my grandma head rubs when they were small, and would always offer to give her hair a tease when they went over. It kept her away from the salon for a few more days and gave them that bonding time they can remember now.
All I can say is that while the lavish gifts you give your elderly loved ones are appreciated, often they are not practical to their daily lives and will go unused. Your elderly family members would be pleased beyond measure if you simply picked up their dog poo in their yard or cleaned out the litter box while you were there. It’s the little simple things they love, and your company. Don’t wait until a holiday or special occasion to pay grandma or grandpa a visit, and don’t leave them with more than a hug. Water their plants, sweep off their sidewalk, take out their garbage, bring in their mail, any simple little thing that shows you care. The next time you consider giving mom yet ANOTHER doily for her birthday, try giving her a foot massage instead while you visit and remind her that you and the kids will be over on the weekend to check and clean her gutters. She may hem and haw, but when you leave there will be grateful tears in her eyes.