Time together can be the ideal holiday gift for an aging loved one

During holiday gift shopping, it’s 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’s one gift that’s sure to please friends and loved ones of advanced age: spending time with them.

Research in gerontology and psychology shows that, as we age, our priorities shift from having things to optimizing experiences. There’s also a shift in interests away from accomplishment and acquisition toward relationship. Christina Pierpaoli Parker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at UAB Medicine, 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,” Pierpaoli Parker said. “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, the clues are easy.

“Generally speaking, older adults don’t want (or need) your stuff; they want your time,” Pierpaoli Parker said. “Time is the scarcest non-renewable resource around, so experiences — especially with people we love — help us to savor it. Also, people remember how you make them feel, not what you gift 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 is always fun. That evening pastime can be even more fun if you are the designated driver and tour guide for an older loved one who no longer drives at night, if at all. It’s also a great way to share stories and memories about “the old neighborhood” and holidays gone by. If you want to splurge, rent a limo that will transport as many family members as possible, plug holiday music into the sound system, and cruise the town in style. Videos and selfies taken during this evening will be treasures you will cherish as much as the older folks do.

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 your senior friend or loved one choose a favorite motion picture. Better still, create a calendar of one movie night for each month of the year, and have them create a lineup based on their choices for this in-home film festival.

Sharing expertise

Technology can be frustrating for people of any age. If your 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 not only a practical gift, it also paves the way for spending quality time together.

Kitchen essentials

There are all kinds of ways to share time in the kitchen. Bonding over food is one of the most common human experiences, so imagine the connections you can make and celebrate by preparing a special meal together, taking a cooking class, or creating a family recipe book.

  • Older individuals whose deceased spouse did all the cooking may feel lost in the kitchen, so some in-home instruction about the basics might come in handy. A cooking class can be a two-way street. An older relative who has the rare skill set for making real biscuits might love teaching the next generation how it’s done.
  • An older loved one may be known for treasured but challenging holiday dishes, yet they just can’t manage that production by themselves anymore (kneading dough, whipping homemade frosting, or pulling a ham in and out of the oven for basting can be tricky). Form a kitchen crew of friends and family to help the old chef create that masterpiece again.
  • Maybe the senior kitchen wizard in your family has a cabinet filled with cookbooks. But is there a compilation of their own recipes and techniques? If not, plan a weekend with them to create one. You can go old school with index cards, or use a cookbook template or similar software on your computer. Either way, you will be compiling a priceless text.
  • Don’t forget to create videos of these kitchen events and activities. They will be a useful reference, but they are 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’s needed from the garden shop. But they can still show an able-bodied youngster how to bring back the blooms. Make a weekend of a planting project with a loved one. They will have their hobby restored, and you may come away with a wealth of new knowledge and tips.

Important note: 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 can’t risk driving long distances alone. There also may be a destination they intended to reach but never got around to it. Treat these adventurous spirits to a road trip. And since this drive is all about the journey, don’t forget to take the scenic route. Better still, since these kinds of drives usually take a turn down memory lane, your senior passenger could turn out to be an ideal tour guide. They may be thrilled to take on that task.

Best gift card ever

If you are not certain about the best way to spend quality time with an aging loved one, there’s an easy solution. Create a personalized gift card that offers “one free day for us all day.” The idea is for them to cash in this card for an all-day visit, during which they choose the activity, the tasks, the destination, or the topics of conversation. You may wind up simply having lunch, playing cards or a board game, watching a movie, or simply sharing memories. You may even have the time of your life, because we are always learning that time together is often the best part of living.

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