Seniors want presence, not presents, this holiday season

Dec 18, 2014

From left: Doris Kuszler, Joyce Uetrecht, Harold "Chappie" Chapman, and Marybelle Chapman.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Gift-giving season is in full swing and many people have at least one hard to shop for person on their list. For some, that person might be an elderly relative. If so, put down the bubble bath, leave the gooey sticky candies on the shelf, and for goodness sake, No More KnickKnacks!

"A terrible gift idea, I think, is more junk," says Harold "Chappie" Chapman. "Most of us have downsized."

Chappie and Marybelle Chapman are two of four people gathered around a table in the pub at Llanfair Retirement Community in College Hill. All live in Llanfair's independent housing community and responded to a survey asking seniors about the best and worst gift ideas.

"I told my kids, 'don't buy me anything I have to dust,'" says Marybelle Chapman. "We have enough stuff around the house that we have to dust and I don't need anymore."

On the no list: fancy soaps and lotions, bubble bath - it's a fall hazard, caramels, peanut brittle or gummy candies, fruit baskets, stuffed animals, and pill reminder containers.

Doris Kuszler says with a smile, she loves clothes, but if that's what you're planning, gift cards are the way to go.

"I'm not a perfect ten," she jokes. "It's hard to get clothes that fit perfectly. I'd rather buy those myself."

Gifts seniors do want include family pictures, one cup coffee makers, large print magazines, help putting up and taking down holiday decorations, and certain candies.

"Chocolate, chocolate chocolate," laughs Marybelle Chapman. "Chocolate covered chocolate."

Joyce Uetrecht says outings or certificates for massages or manicures are her favorites.

"It's even better when (the gift giver) plans to go with me, or take a couple of their sisters and take me somewhere. That's one of my favorite gifts, the time that's involved with it makes it so much more pleasant than doing it on your own."

Uetrecht isn't alone. Family companionship tops the survey's wish list.

"Older people don't necessarily want things, they want time and love and companionship with their family and their friends." - Laurie Petrie, Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio

Vice President of Communications with the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, Laurie Petrie says, "Older people don't necessarily want things, they want time and love and companionship with their family and their friends. Anything that you can think of that would allow you to have time together with the older person in your life is a good idea. Whether that's a trip to a restaurant, a movie... it's the time together that's important to them."

Petrie says the holidays can be hard for the elderly and this time of year makes them more prone to depression. She says the added activity can also be unsettling for those with dementia or Alzheimer's so she recommends trying to maintain as much calm and normality as possible.

While not everyone loves technology and gadgets, don't think older adults are afraid of of them. Llanfair's community liaison says seniors are very active on social media and love having grandkids show them how to use new things.

Plants are another gray area. Uetrecht says no - her home doesn't get enough sunlight. But Chapman loves filling her balcony with potted greenery. Perhaps her husband Chappie sums it up best when he says everyone has their own tastes and it's really about knowing what someone might like and making them feel loved.

"Even just coming and being with you for a while means a lot." - Chappie Chapman

"Rather than just solving (the gift giver's) guilt, 'well, I've got to do something for Grandma or Grandpa.' It's a way for them to say 'I love you, I appreciate you, I want to be with you.' That's where going out for a meal has a special advantage in having them come to you. Even just coming and being with you for a while means a lot."

So while some gifts are just a bad idea - don't give a retiree an alarm clock - the old cliche remains true: It's the thought that counts.