At this time of year there is no end to lists that detail the best gifts for mom, dad, grandparents, best friends and, yes, even the family pet. But when it comes to picking the perfect presents for older loved ones, whether extravagant or utilitarian, what truly makes the best gifts for seniors are those that enable them to maintain a great quality of life—being able to stay engaged in things they love to do and live as independently as possible.
The best holiday gifts for seniors have benefits in 5 distinct areas: those that allow them to stay active, stay sharp, stay safe, stay interested and stay vital. Here’s why each of those aspects is important, along with gift choices for every budget, from $12 to over $2,000.
1. Think Fitness First: Gifts For Staying Active
Among the lifestyle behaviors that have only negative effects, being sedentary is near the top of the list. Exercise maintains muscle, and muscle enables the body to maintain a level of fitness that helps you resist illness, stay independent and prevent falls. While there are octogenarian marathoners, it’s not necessary to do extreme sports or work out until you ache. Exercise can and should be fun and tailored to each individual’s level.
Staying Active Gifts For Seniors:
As popular as the Nintendo Wii is for all ages, some of the action games can be especially helpful for seniors not just for staying in shape, but even to help treat symptoms of conditions like Parkinson’s, according to early studies. With the game console wars heating up between manufacturers, the Wii system is currently available at the lowest cost seen since its introduction, under $200; Walmart is offering a package with the console and programs including the Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board for workouts at under $300.
A session with a physical therapist can revitalize a senior and pinpoint fitness needs and the best exercises. Physical therapists (PTs) who are members of American Physical Therapy Association are bound by the Association’s Code of Ethics and are especially committed to providing competent and compassionate care. PTs must be licensed by the state in which they practice. You can search for a APTA certified practitioner by zip code and training specialty online at http://www.apta.org/; select geriatric from the “Expertise” drop down menu; hourly rates vary.
2. Maintain The Brain: Gifts For Staying Sharp
Ongoing studies are researching exactly how to keep the brain sharp and delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Exercising the mind can be as high-tech as video games and brain training programs and as low-tech as playing Scrabble and doing crossword puzzles every day. Many of these activities have benefits that range from improving memory to visual acuity; they’re also just plain fun and keep people engaged. Specific brain fitness software involves interactive game-like training programs that challenge the mind and attempt to boost memory as well as analytical thinking.
Staying Sharp Gifts For Seniors:
Posit Science (www.PositScience.com) has staff neuroscientists who collaborate with more than 50 scientists from leading research institutions such as Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins. Products include its Brain Fitness Program to remember more and feel sharper through auditory brain training, InSight, to help users focus better and notice more through visual brain training and DriveSharp to help improve driver confidence and faster reaction through visual brain training. The DriveSharp program has two interactive game-like exercises that focus on the visual areas in the brain that are essential to safe driving. Improvements include better tracking of multiple objects, reduced risk of a car crash by 50 percent and speeding up mental processing and reaction time. DriveSharp has been endorsed by AAA; $89.
Dakim BrainFitness™ System (www.dakim.com) is high-level technology that provides rigorous cognitive stimulation to help reduce the risk of memory loss and dementia, as well as speed the process of regaining cognitive function after a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The program has become the leading training program in the senior living market in part because its format needs virtually no caregiver assistance. In fact, senior living provider Lifespace Communities has just adopted it for its 4,500 residents in 11 communities across the US. Available for home use as well, each 20-minute Dakim BrainFitness session exercises short- and long-term memory, critical thinking, visuospatial orientation, calculation and language for a thorough brain workout. Played on a special touch screen computer that requires no mouse, keyboard or computer knowledge (an internet connection is needed), the Dakim BrainFitness system self-adjusts the level of challenge for users ranging from active seniors to early-stage Alzheimer’s patients. Its emphasis on promoting sustained use is based on numerous studies demonstrating a substantial reduction in dementia risk with consistent, long-term mental stimulation. $2299, plus $19.95 a month.
3. Get Smart About Safety: Gifts For Staying Safe
For many seniors, high-tech developments in telecare are allowing those who need care and attention to age in place—stay in their homes but under a watchful eye through electronic monitoring and communication devices via the computer, video cameras, the internet, land or wireless telephone signals. Advances in tracking devices for wanderers, online recordkeeping and medical reminder systems are other high-tech ways of keeping seniors safe.
Staying Safe Gifts For Seniors:
A Very Special Heart™ (www.averyspecialheart.com) hides a sophisticated USB device inside a silver or golden finish charm that holds critical information on medical conditions, medications and allergies. Also available as the Very Special Globe™(TM) keychain for men, users can store a wealth of important medical and personal records that can be easily accessed from any computer in the world with a USB drive. The information can also be translated into seven different languages, making it perfect for travelers. Other important documents, such as passports, social security cards and drivers’ licenses can also be uploaded into password-protected files, keeping them safe in case of a fire or flood. This type of sensitive information can only be accessed by entering a personal password—just the lifesaving medical information on the internal flash drive will be seen in case of an emergency; $89.95.
EmFinders EmSeeQ™ (www.Emfinders.com) is a watch-like wearable device and service that is integrated nationally with 911 systems to immediately locate adults with cognitive disabilities in emergency situations. The cellular location technology used by EmFinders works indoors and outdoors over a wide area—anywhere in the US that has cell phone coverage, and it can locate wanderers who might be blocked by a wall, tall building, roof or even the shadow of a mountain. The rechargeable battery can go up to a week between charges; $185 for the standard version and $200 for the two-handed clasp that prevents the user from removing the device on his or her own, plus a monthly service fee of $25 a month.
4. See Clearly: Gifts For Staying Interested
Normal vision changes occur as we age. Even natural changes unrelated to conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration can make reading close-up difficult, but the ability to read in particular is an important part of maintaining quality of life. So is being able to do other “hand held” activities like knitting and writing. Tools and gadgets that make it easier to stay interested in these activities are among the best holiday gifts for seniors.
Staying Interested Gifts For Seniors:
The Lighted Magnifier adds brightness as it magnifies to make reading any size print or picture easier. The unbreakable and scratch-resistant 5” round has an LED light, a 2x power magnifier with a 6x bifocal insert. It needs 1 AAA battery (not included); $21.89.
For the senior who loves to start every day by reading the newspaper, but who may have difficulty holding or maneuvering it, the table top newspaper stand is an ingenious gadget. The 24” square stand has an elastic cord system to hold a newspaper in place; $59.39.
An alternative for reading in bed or on a sofa is the bean bag lap desk. The 15” x 13” portable lap desk makes a comfortable reading, writing or eating surface. The wedge-shaped cushion is filled with foam beads and adjusts from flat to a 20-degree angle. The top has a wipe clean plastic surface and a built-in lip to hold reading material; $56.99.
5. Emphasize Everyday Ease: Staying Vital and Connected
Independence comes in many forms, but doctors often judge it by the ability to carry out daily living activities, simply taking care of oneself and one’s needs—getting dressed, eating properly, moving about with relative ease. Aids and gadgets that facilitate these everyday actions make a big difference in quality of life and the ability to age at home. New devices that enable seniors to stay connected to loved ones without necessarily having to be computer savvy add to quality of life.
Staying Vital Gifts For Seniors:
The Pathlighter Lighted Walking Cane, our “Founders’ Choice,” solves two issues in one: mobility and vision enhancement—users get the assistance they need to walk plus a built-in xenon lamp to light the way. The cane features a stable, offset design with a wear-resistant foam handle that can support up to 250 pounds (it weighs just 1.5 pounds itself); made of aluminum and polycarbonate for superior strength it can be adjusted from 34" to 38" and taken apart for easy storage/travel. The lamp bulb offers exceptional brightness and has a 40 hour life; the on and off switch is on the handle; $48.69.
The POURfect kitchen tools (www.pourfectbowl.com) make it easier for seniors to prepare meals and are perfect for holiday cooking projects done as a family. The mixing bowls, available in 1 to 12 cup sizes, allow you to measure, mix and pour all in one bowl. They have a stay-put rubber ring bottom, a handle on one side for added stability and easy pouring, especially helpful for arthritic hands, and a dripless spout on the other for better maneuverability. The extensive set of 12 measuring spoons includes very small amounts, starting at 1/16 teaspoon when “just a dash” is needed, and helpful measures like 1-1/2 tablespoons. The measuring cup set comes in 1/8 to 2 cup increments. The capacity of each measuring tool is written in large numbers as well as in Braille and its metric equivalent. There are 6 standard colors to choose from and dozens more available by special order to brighten any kitchen; sets start at $12.
The Assist-A-Tray is a terrific, multi-purpose daily living aid with an ergonomic grip handle that provides support for getting on and off any couch, chair or recliner plus a dual-pivoting tray that rotates 360 degrees to allow for the most convenient placement. The tray includes a cup holder and extended compartment, perfect for keeping handy items close by, and can hold up to 30 pounds. Super grip feet offer stability and protect the floor from damage. Each feature can be adjusted: the base from 20” to 36”, the handle from 34” to 40” and the tray from 26” to 32” high. No tools are needed for the fast, 5-step assembly; $156.19.
Presto is a combination of the Presto Printing Mailbox and Presto Mail service. It allows family members to use their email service to communicate with loved ones who don’t use a computer or the internet. Just send emails, photos and other documents to a Presto-provided email address, and the Presto Mail service transforms emailed messages and photos into printable, full color e-letters. The Presto Printing Mailbox automatically retrieves messages via the phone line and prints them out for the senior up to 5 times day; $49.99, plus $12.50 a month for service based on a yearly subscription.