Meaningful gifts for elderly, infirm on your list

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JANE PROCTOR, Extension agent

Coming up with thoughtful and creative holiday gift ideas for ill or elderly friends and relatives can be difficult, but with a little imagination and time, there are many clever and useful items out there for those folks  on your gift list.  
People who are ill and those who are elderly sometimes have trouble getting to stores to buy cards, and often though don’t want to bother others with their shopping needs.
Over time, they may begin to lose touch with friends and family members. So help them share thoughts and greetings with others by giving them greeting cards and note cards. Select several cards from “get well,” “birthday,” “thinking of you” and “sympathy” categories. You may also one to get one or two special occasion cards for weddings, anniversaries or baby showers.
Include some attractive note cards with space to write a few sentences, and don’t forget to include stamps. All your loved one will have to do is leave it out for the mail carrier.
This helps your friend or loved one to maintain an active role in the community and family, and not feel isolated from those special occasions and  events.
Everyday toiletries and other items also may be greatly appreciated. Think of combs, brushes, socks (cold feet are common), panty hose or knee-highs, slippers, soap, notepads and pens or pencils, and bookmarks.
Current issues of favorite magazines are a good idea, as well as attractive sweaters, afghans and throws that can help them stay warm and cozy on cold winter days or in air conditioning.
Consider comfortable and attractive sleepwear in natural fibers or brushed satin. (The slick satin helps them turn easily in bed while the brushed nap on the inside feels soft and cuddly, a boon for those with sensitive skin or those who have difficulty turning over in bed.)
Bed jackets and new easy-to-use clothing in their favorite colors make elderly people feel unique and special.
A bed or chair caddy can keep things like TV remotes or cordless phones within easy reach. These are sold in many stores, or can be handmade using fabric scraps. Make sure they come with extra long “tails” that tuck under a mattress or are weighted to throw over the arm of their favorite chair.
A comfortable pillow to tuck behind their head or to help support their back provides comfort. Bags or carriers that attach to a walker or wheelchair also can help them keep track of their belongings as they move around.
Special convenience items can make an elderly person’s life easier. Hospital supply shops and specialty catalogues have many items such as extenders that can help them pick something off of the floor or reach items on high shelves. Some even have magnets on the end to pick up paper clips or other metal objects without bending or getting out of a chair.
A good, reliable flashlight can provide a feeling of security – just in case the lights go out. Large-handled hairbrushes help those who have trouble holding smaller handles. Clocks that reflect the time in large numbers on the ceiling mean no turning to see the time, and no glasses are needed, even in a dark room.
Other ideas with lots of meaning but little cost:
Give them YOU. A telephone call, a poem or a special prayer just for them, or a visit with your family dog may be just the ticket to bring comfort, cheer and a smile for the day.
Visits or phone calls also give them an opportunity to share news.
Write to them. Write a series of short letters to your loved one. Vary the themes. Tell jokes, pass along cartoons, or relate funny stories. Share fond memories. Tell your loved one what you admire about him.
Or, share a favorite poem or scripture. After you have finished all letters, number, seal and stamp them. Then every few days, drop one in the mail.
Give them a chance to “get out.” Take your elderly or shut-in friend or family member for a ride in the country, or to places they enjoy. Brief shopping trips are great if they are ambulatory or in wheelchairs.
An occasional ride to church or a special community event such as a parade, Fourth of July fireworks display, or special community dinner can invigorate those who have been inside for a time.
Just remember: The very best gift is yourself – the gift of your presence. Regular visits, even when brief, mean so much. Your presence says, “I care,” “You’re important to me” or simply, “I love you.” When distance separates you, pick up the phone to say “hi” and share news often.

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services. This week’s source: Linda Adler, M.A., an Extension specialist for home furnishings.