Ideal holiday gifts for aging loved ones

This holiday season, one UAB expert suggests looking for ways to invest in time with elderly loved ones versus investing in gifts.
Written by: UAB Medicine
Media contact: Brianna Hoge

Stream elderly giftThis holiday season, one UAB expert suggests looking for ways to invest in time with elderly loved ones versus investing in gifts.

During holiday gift shopping, it is often a struggle to find the “perfect” present for older friends or loved ones who say they already have everything they want or need. But experts agree there is one gift that is sure to please friends and loved ones of advanced age: spending time with them.

Research in gerontology and psychology shows that, as we age, priorities shift from having things to optimizing experiences. There is also a shift in interests away from accomplishments and acquisitions toward relationships. Christina Pierpaoli Parker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says these changes influence what people in late stages of life value most.

“As our time horizons shrink, or as we approach the end of life, our personal goals and priorities tend to change dramatically,” said Pierpaoli Parker, who is an assistant professor in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. “They shift from collecting achievements and things to fostering and maximizing the quality, though not quantity, of our relationships.”

As for how that translates into finding the ideal gift, she says, the clues are easy as generally older adults do not want, or sometimes need, stuff; they want time.

“Time is the scarcest non-renewable resource around, so experiences — especially with people we love — help us to savor it,” Pierpaoli Parker said. “People remember how you make them feel, not what you give them. Considering this, you might say that quality time with others is at the top of most older people’s wish lists.”

With that in mind, here are some shopping tips for the gifts of togetherness.

Sharing holiday events

Driving through neighborhoods to be wowed by holiday lights and decorations can be a time of fun, and it can be even more fun to serve as the driver for an older loved one who no longer drives at night, if at all. It is also a great way to share stories and memories about “the old neighborhood” and holidays gone by. If one wants to splurge, rent a limo that will transport as many family members as possible. Videos and selfies taken during this evening will be treasures to cherish.

Someone who loves movies might love an official movie night even more. Watching movies as a group and sharing thoughts about them afterward can be far more meaningful than watching alone. Plan a holiday movie night, make popcorn and other snacks, and have a senior friend or loved one choose a favorite motion picture.

Sharing expertise

Technology can be frustrating for people of any age. If a loved one is struggling with a new TV streaming package, computer printer or smartphone, consider making a detailed tutorial or series of “instructional courses.” This is a practical gift that paves the way for spending quality time together.

Kitchen essentials

Bonding over food is one of the most common human experiences. There are all kinds of ways to share time in the kitchen, and the following are some ways to do so this holiday season:

  • Older individuals whose deceased spouse did all the cooking may feel lost in the kitchen, so in-home instruction about the basics might come in handy.
  • An older loved one may be known for their treasured, but challenging holiday dishes, which is hard to manage that production solo now. Form a kitchen crew of friends and family to help create that masterpiece again.
  • Maybe the senior kitchen wizard in the family has a cabinet filled with cookbooks, but is there a compilation of their own recipes and techniques? If not, plan a weekend to create one.
  • Create videos of these kitchen events and activities. They can be a useful reference, but also a valuable document of cherished time together.

Grow some memories

If gardening was their main hobby for decades, older adults may retire that green thumb if they lack the energy to mix soil, arrange pots or haul home all that is needed from the garden shop. However, they may still be able to show an able-bodied individual how to bring back the blooms. Make a weekend of a planting project with a loved one. They will have their hobby restored, and the helpers may come away with a wealth of new knowledge and tips.

Parker notes that, if any gift involves providing help with a specific project, task or chore, remember to do these things with your loved one, as opposed to simply for them.

Road trips

There may be some favorite places they once visited on a regular basis, but older folks often cannot risk driving long distances alone. There may be a destination they intended to reach but never got around to it. Since the drive is all about the journey, take the scenic route.

These kinds of drives can take a turn down memory lane, which can allow your senior passenger to become a tour guide and share stories.

Best gift card ever

A personalized gift card that offers an all-day visit during which they choose the activity, the tasks, the destination or the topics of conversation can be a great gift for an older loved one. The day may include having lunch, playing cards or a board game, watching a movie, or simply sharing memories. Whatever the day consists of, all parties can have the time of their life because time together can often the best part of the holidays.