To make your shopping a little easier this holiday season, we've put together a list of fun and practical items for older adults. For your convenience, the gifts are organized by price, including some inexpensive ideas for crafters or kids to make.
Gifts $25 and less
Grandparent Talk uses a deck of question cards to stimulate social interaction and spontaneous discussion between grandparents and the youngsters who don't necessarily recognize the store of knowledge their grandparents hold (and often don't know how to ask the right questions to start a conversation with them). Grandparent Talk is the perfect door-opener to build a bridge between generations. Carefully chosen questions -- such as, "Have you ever faced a bully?" -- are displayed on the collection of cards in the game deck.
Another deck in this series is Family Talk, which encourages the kind of old-fashioned, around-the-kitchen-table banter families use to have in the evenings before TV, computers, and texting scattered the generations in different directions.
To order: Grandparent Talk & Family Talk
Cost: about $11
Shutterfly.com offers a variety of practical gifts that you can design yourself and order quickly for the holidays. Upload some of your favorite digital photos or put your favorite faces on coffee mugs, photo magnets for the fridge door, or a photo key chain. How about a refrigerator magnet, a 5-by-7-inch brag book for Grandma, or a deck of playing cards featuring a photo of Grandpa's favorite pet?
To order: Shutterfly
Cost: $3 and up
Word games like Scrabble or Boggle are fun for all generations -- and they're great exercise for the brain. As in Boggle, players of Bananagrams make words, and as in Scrabble, they create crosswords. And they need to work as fast as they can, until someone yells, "Bananas!" No pencil, no paper, no bulky board required. Each Bananagrams game includes 144 letter tiles zipped into a bright yellow, banana-shaped bag that's easy to store and pull out when guests visit or the family gathers -- or to use at the kitchen table for a solo game with a cup of coffee on a rainy afternoon.
To order: Bananagrams
Cost: about $15
Stepping in and out of a slippery bathtub or shower -- or simply standing in one -- can be a challenge for older adults. Give the gift of some extra confidence: a 12-inch Bath Safety Grip that provides assistance for entering and exiting the shower or bathtub. This grab bar is sturdy and easily attaches to any smooth surface via strong suction cups on each end. This is a particularly handy gift for seniors who travel and want extra safety in an unfamiliar shower, such as when visiting the grandkids or staying in a hotel. The Bath Safety Grip is portable, lightweight, and easy to pack, and it can be used just about anywhere an extra grip is needed.
To order: Bath Safety Grip
Cost: about $10
The LifeBio Memory Journal is especially suited to an older person who enjoys writing. This lovely gift is a book of creative, memory-jogging questions about life, with sufficient space after each question to capture handwritten answers. It creates a wonderful opportunity for a grandparent to pass on stories and wisdom to the next few generations.
The journal asks more than 250 questions, such as, "How would you describe your mother to someone who has never met her?" Or "What skills did you inherit from your parents?" Other questions ask the writers to recall their favorite birthday party as a child, the neighborhood they grew up in, or a favorite subject when they were in high school. The resulting answers can be transferred to an online LifeBio journal and merged with scanned pictures to become a hardbound LifeBio book that can be copied multiple times and given to family members.
To order: LifeBio.com
Cost: $19.95 for journal
The Art of Aging is a profusely illustrated book that provides a wealth of inspiration for older adults. Created by painter Alice Matzkin and her husband, sculptor Richard Matzkin, this touching book explores the experience of aging through art. In a series of projects that confront the artists' fears and curiosity about growing old, they examine physical changes, sensuality, relationships, spirituality, and their own aging parents -- and they do so with dignity and candor. Their uplifting conclusion: The elder years can be a time of ripening and harvest rather than inactivity and despair.
To order: The Art of Aging
Cost: about $17
Ideal for those with weak knees or backs or other physical challenges such as arthritis, or for those who use a cane and have difficulty getting in and out of an auto, the Handybar provides extra leverage and support when entering or leaving a vehicle. It works with many (if not most) autos, small trucks, vans, and SUVs. Small and easy to use, this device can be stored in an auto's door pocket.
The Handybar features a soft, nonslip handle with an insert on the end that fits into a vehicle's striker (a U-shaped device that's factory-attached inside the door well and is readily visible and available once the door is opened). A striker is designed to hold at least 2,500 pounds, which means it won't pop off if an overweight person uses the Handybar with it. With a built-in seat belt cutter and side window breaker, the Handybar is an equally useful tool in an emergency.
To order: Handybar
Cost: about $20
One thing that can help give both you and your loved ones some peace of mind is a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS). The Lively Wearable is a two-in-one emergency response device and simple fitness tracker that can be worn as a bracelet or around the neck. Active older adults will appreciate the embedded pedometer that tracks their steps. It can also detect falls when worn around the neck and has a button that can contact the 5Star call center via the user’s smartphone in the event of an emergency. See what reviewers had to say.
To order: Lively Wearable
Cost: $40 plus a monthly service plan
Don't need the fitness tracker? A simpler device option is the Lively. Like the Lively Wearable, the Lively can also be worn around the neck as a fall detection device. Or it can simply be placed in the home or slipped into the purse when going out. Press the one button on the device and it will automatically connect you to GreatCall’s highly rated 5Star Urgent Response service. See what reviewers had to say.
To order: Lively Wearable
Cost: $40 plus a monthly service plan
An adorable, soft, robotic toy pet may be just the right gift for an older adult or a loved one suffering from dementia, especially if they can no longer take care of a pet or are living in an apartment or an assisted-living facility that doesn't allow animals. The WowWee Alive Sleeping Cuties are perfect to hold or cuddle up with for a nap. Each one has a movable head and "knows" when you pick it up. Pet one and it wakes up or makes soft, sleepy pet sounds; play with one, and it makes happy sounds.
To order: WowWee
Cost: $40 and up
Are you caring for someone who's an active reader or hobbyist -- who likes to, say, fine-stitch a needlepoint pillow or tie flies or collect stamps? Most likely, that person can use a little more brightness and magnification while indulging in such pastimes. If so, the Fulcrum 20072-401 Magnifier 12 LED Floor Lamp provides light, magnification, and adjustability.
With 12 high-powered but cool LEDs, this floor lamp provides ample light for close work and reading. The ultra-flexible gooseneck brings the light exactly where it's needed and to the right angle for viewing. The extra-large lens easily covers an entire page without glare or hot spots. And unlike that magnifier hidden away in a drawer, this one won't be hard to find when it's needed most.
Cost: about $80
For the older adult who wants to clear snow but whose back or arm strength isn't up to it anymore, the lightweight, electric Power Shovel could be an excellent alternative. This small machine tackles snow up to 6 inches deep on any hard surface, such as patios, decks, driveways, walkways, or front steps. It's also great for those lighter snowfalls, when a snow removal service doesn't cover the job.
The lightweight Power Shovel weighs 13 pounds and is easy to maneuver and use. Because it doesn't require gas or oil, it's also maintenance free. Just plug it in and it's ready to go. When not in use, its compact size makes it easy to store.
To order: Toro
Whether the person you're thinking about drinks just a single daily cup of java (or tea or cocoa) or simply likes a fresh brew with each cup, Keurig's one-cup brewers, which come with a selection of gourmet coffees, make ideal gifts. The basic Mini Brewing System brews a single cup with no guesswork or leftover water. The Elite Brewing System, which comes with a 48-ounce water reservoir, offers an automatic "off" feature that can prove useful for forgetful older adults. Compact and easy to use, these brewers make good sense for a small home kitchen or in an assisted-living environment (not to mention in an RV).
To order: Keurig
Cost: $125 and up
For someone whose hearing isn't what it used to be, the TV Ears portable listening system can make an audible difference. This wireless headset system enhances the sounds and voices from TV (it works with the latest plasma and LCD flat screens), and it's flexible enough to be used as a wired headset for an iPod, computer, or other music and electronic device.
The TV Ears Professional model clarifies television dialog; it also has an automatic Commercial Control that caps loud commercials so the listener doesn't get an unexpected blast of volume. In addition, it amplifies cell phones, home phones, and even voices during one-on-one conversations.
To order: TV Ears
Pushing a vacuum cleaner may no longer be an option for the person you're buying for, especially if he or she has mobility issues. The Roomba, a robotic vacuum, can clean two rooms on one battery charge. To begin the job, just press the start button, take a seat, and watch the action. The Roomba will "learn" a room and its floors, remembering where furniture and walls are located and what to avoid, such as stairs. When this flying saucer-like device completes its job or is in need of recharging, it finds its way back to the charging station and docks itself.
The Roomba works well on wood and low-nap rugs and for cleaning up pet hairs and dander. There's also a model that washes the floor (the Scooba) and a heavy-duty Dirt Dog that will tackle the garage or cellar work area.
To order: iRobot
Cost: $350 and up, depending on the model
For their grandparents, kids can create a colorful coupon book decorated with their favorite digital pictures. What to include? How about unique services they can provide for a grandparent, such as several car washes (always appreciated by an older driver) or perhaps two hours of yard- or housework (raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter, or washing windows at any time of year). Other coupon items might include climbing a ladder to change light bulbs, installing new smoke alarm batteries, or dogsitting when the grandparents are on a trip. Other fun coupons could include an all-day activity with a grandparent, such as a day of fishing, a trip to the shopping mall (including lunch), or a day at the county fair. Lots of templates and ideas are available from Kodak.
A year's worth of gifts come in the form of a homemade calendar. Include such special dates as birthdays and anniversaries along with holidays that the family celebrates. Then add digital pictures that depict activities from different seasons or family events. Free templates can be printed from Printable Calendar.
Older adults aren't always enamored of having to cook, so a gift of homemade food can be a special treat. Maybe it's a tin of your best fudge or a granddaughter's cookies. Try decorating a wicker basket and filling it with some favorite snacks. Find hundreds of free recipes for every course, including holiday cookies, fudge, or other favorite foods, at Free CookingRecipes.
Are you someone who likes to sew? With scraps of cloth you have left over from a project, plus a sewing machine, you can create sewn gifts ranging from a cheery pot holder to a new set of placemats or a colorful shopping bag. There are lots of free projects, ideas, and patterns, from beginner through advanced levels, at About.com.
Holiday gift giving can be especially challenging if you're caring for someone in an assisted-living environment, where personal storage space is a luxury. What follow are some inexpensive gift ideas for someone living in more confined quarters:
Framed piece of a grandchild's artwork
Knitted hat, gloves, and scarf
Teacup with box of herbal tea
Memory book of special photos
Small bottle of real maple syrup
Pens, assorted greeting cards, postal cards, stationery, and stamps
Desk-quality address book or guest book
Shower tote filled with bath gels and moisturizers
Decorative napkins and small matching plates
Assortment of current magazines tied together with a colorful ribbon
Jigsaw puzzle (500 pieces or more)
Low-vision, large-print deck of cards
Pencil box with pens, paper clips, and colorful post-it notes
Decorative glass jar filled with old-fashioned penny candy
Scented soap-on-a-rope and a flannel nightshirt
Prepaid long-distance phone cards
Desk clock with big numbers
Decorated box for keepsakes
Desktop Christmas tree
Sewing box with supplies
Colorful knitting or crocheting yarns
Flashlight for a nightstand
Soft makeup brush and some face powder
Warm, colorful socks