Give the Gift of Time to Your Relatives

As you gather with your family during the holidays you are probably fretting over the perfect gift for an elderly relative. Or maybe you’re worried about what you will do once you see each other. This can be especially perplexing if you have a loved one in a nursing home or if you are traveling to visit elderly relatives and you’re attepting to cram a year’s worth of time into a few days.

First of all, stop trying to think of something monumental to do or buy. Instead, consider the suggestions of my colleague, Signe Gleeson of Elder Care Solutions in Naperville, Ill.

Signe reminds us that many elderly people do not need another “thing.” Often their homes are filled wtih a lifetime’s accumulations. Health conditions may preclude candy or food treats. Many seniors prefer pleasant company, the opportunity to talk, laugh and be touched lovingly by another. Simply visiting and sharing a cup of tea may be all someone wants.

Or how about revisiting abandoned hobbies or sharing certain activities that elicit a joyful reminiscence. Such a gift may remind you of their forgotten talents and bring both of you in touch with the person your elder is and was.

Also, think of a gift that stimulates neglected senses. Arthritic hands or poor vision may interfere with an elder’s ability to fully participate in an activity. An elder who is unable to accomplish tasks alone may be able to do so with support and will be thrilled with the results. For example, while my 94-year-old friend Susan sat in the kitchen and directed, I prepared her favorite cranberry mold recipe.

Here are more suggestions for the holidays and, really, any time of the year. Many of these can be done in care facilities. Sometimes an elder can leave a facility for the day and join family at home.

I have favorite memories of the lat two years of my father’s life, which he spent in a nursing home, completely debilitated by many strokes. During dinners, I arranged for a private table, complete with a linen table cloth and napkins. Although my father had a bib and ate pureed food while I dined on typical nursing home fare, we pretended we were at the country club.

Another memory was simply sitting with him while we indulged in a favorite family activity: reading. Although unable to really read, he still had the habit and enjoyed going through the motions. In his wheel chair, shawl over his shoulders, he thumbed through the Wall Street Journal while I was next to him with my book. Together, we basked in the winter sunlight that bounced of brilliant new snow and streamed through the nursing home windows.