Ten Affordable Gifts for Elderly Parents

Finding the right gifts for family members is an annual challenge, especially this year when everyone is feeling economic uncertainty. Gift giving is more meaningful when you know that the item you’ve chosen will have personal significance to the recipient.

What many elderly parents want more than material goods is the physical presence of their loved ones. Most want to feel the connection to loved ones and to uphold the traditions they have become accustomed to for half a century or more. They want to be surrounded by people they know and love, allaying the underlying feelings of being isolated from the warm customs they have known in the past. However, with families often living long distances from each other, being able to share the holidays in person may not always be practical or feasible given financial constraints. So, what options are available to maintain the connection and bring joy into the hearts of the older person while feeling good about the gift choices you make? Below are ten suggestions for holiday gifts to consider that are easy to find, inexpensive to send, take nominal space, if any, and can fit most cost conscientious shoppers of any age.

1) Holiday decorations: Most communities will decorate the common areas of the independent living, assisted living or nursing home with a Christmas tree, lights and a menorah for those who celebrate Chanukah. It’s not uncommon to see wrapped gifts under a tree and beautiful plants in the entry way of most senior housing settings. Most residents still want to adorn their private space with their own holiday accoutrements. Most residents typically don’t have access to transportation to buy their own decorations, store them throughout the year or to dispose of a real tree after the holiday. Using real candles for the menorah can be a fire hazard along with tree lights. There is always the electrical candle option, but it’s a good idea to check with the community first in any case regarding their safety policies. A seasonal gift might be a few small poinsettia plants to liven up their apartment, a decorated wreath for the entry door, ornaments to hang by the window or nutcracker soldiers to place on a shelf or table. Even stockings with little gifts such as reading lights with batteries, toiletries or customized stationery with a new personalized pen would be welcomed additions.

2) Food items: Most families have traditional foods specific to the holidays. Remember, some places may not have refrigeration or adequate space for larger food items. Consider items that are not difficult to chew and have a relatively long shelf life. An example could be cookies, fruitcake or an assortment of holiday candies such as candy canes or chocolate kisses to have on hand when friends of the grandkids visit. A festive holiday basket filled with jams, jellies, crackers and cheese could be a gift shared with fellow residents. Who doesn’t love to receive a surprise package, knowing that someone cares about them enough to send a thoughtful gift? Don’t forget the personalized note so they know who sent it. The cost can be kept under $50, depending on whether you prepare the food yourself or order a package from a distributor.

3) DVDs of Classic Movies and/or TV shows: Re-experiencing the old days is a favorite pastime for seniors with long term memory usually more intact than the short term. Whether it’s the “Best of Lawrence Welk,” western movies, or Hollywood classics with the “Brat Pack,” these films could bring smiles and stimulate fond times of younger days. Two DVDs or CDs can be found for under $30 including tax.

4) CDs of their favorite music: Music from the senior’s years of youth, such as big band, jazz or classical tunes, could bring many hours of pleasure and be a gift that keeps rekindling old memories.

5) Digital Photos: Having an assortment of family rotating shots of the grandkids in action smattered with older and more recent photos of family and friends available for them to look at any time would delight their living space while they muse at the latest technology. A digital photo frame is far more likely to be viewed than the traditional photo album which tends to gather dust. You will likely have to load the photos for them, but seeing the expression on their face is well worth the time and effort. Most come with a memory card slot, which makes it easy for you to update photos from far away. Depending on how many photos you want to hold, the cost typically runs between $25 and $50.

6) Magazine subscriptions: There is a magazine for practically every hobby and interest. Purchasing a one or two year annual subscription can be a personalized gift that can bring ongoing pleasure to the individual, knowing that you cared enough to remember their particular area of interest. In addition, it stimulates their mind to read and stay current on hot trends related to their favorite subject matter. An annual subscription for most magazines will be under $36.

7) Books on tape: For many seniors with compromised eyesight, having interesting new novels on tape read by an eloquent narrator can bring hours of entertainment. It can also give the senior a reason to engage in conversation about the latest written works with extended family and friends making them feel able to contribute in contemporary works of art.

8 ) 2009 calendar with family photos: Select twelve of your special photos and make a calendar on your own home computer, or have it done at Kinko’s or an equivalent print shop. This gift shows the extra care to tailor a gift for the senior. Go the extra mile and note the birthdays of all close family members on the calendar as a reminder for them throughout the year. You can also buy a box of birthday cards for them to send to family members throughout the year since getting out to the store to buy cards in a timely manner is difficult for most senior residents. Our family prepared the calendar at a local print shop for less than $20.

9) Snugglies: Room temperatures tend to vary from room to room in senior housing so having your own personal blanket or cover-up from head to toe may be ideal for winter comfort. It can also be of ideal for watching TV or listening to good music with air conditioning in the summer months. For less than $30, the fabrics can range from fun fur, fleece, cotton or polyester. We encourage you to consider machine washable fabric, which means avoiding wool if possible. There are new products which are blankets with sleeves to enable use of your hands for reading, knitting or cuddling a pet or grandchildren while maintaining that cozy feeling.

10) Membership in Medic Alert: The non-profit organization, online at, offers a bracelet or necklace with a toll free number inscribed along with the senior resident’s name and other essential information (e.g., allergies, medical conditions such as diabetes) on the back to a 24-hour emergency response service. The family member who takes out the annual subscription can access and update the personal health information for the senior resident any time. The service includes family notification, medical profiles with medication dosages and medical device information. If you are a caregiver living near or far, you can have peace of mind knowing that this inexpensive service, typically less than $50 per year, will provide access to current pertinent information to help the senior during a medical emergency or natural disaster. No longer are paper records, often out of date, necessary to get timely key information into the hands of those who need it to respond accordingly. Even the Alzheimer’s Association uses this service for their Safe Return program for those afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who can lose their whereabouts and become disoriented.

The Farr Law Firm sends you our warm holiday greetings, and we hope these ideas lighten your burden of finding the right gift for the older special person in your life.

This article is provided by SNAPforSeniors®, the most current and comprehensive senior housing resource in the nation, which has recently partnered with the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys to provide the NAELA Senior Housing Locator. If you or a loved one are in need of senior housing, you can start a search by clicking here.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.