En español | Want to give a family caregiver a meaningful present? I've been a caregiver for various family members for more than 35 years, and I would be happy to receive any (or all!) of these items.
Here are some ideas for gifts that might be helpful or encouraging for the caregivers in your life, grouped around a few of the things that, in my experience, caregivers need most.
Aromatherapy diffuser and essential oil. Research indicates lavender can be relaxing and promote better quality sleep. People also use vanilla, chamomile, rose or geranium for relaxation. I like the ultrasonic diffusers that use water to diffuse the oil into the air.
Make sure a diffuser can be used safely, with a wide, stable base that won't topple over easily. You'll also want one that can run without bright lights and emits continuous mist all night (eight to 10 hours).
A hot bath. Make a package of bath salts, oils and lotions with a note encouraging the caregiver to take a relaxing bath before bed.
Relaxation and meditation aids. A sound machine producing white noise or nature sounds can help calm the mind or drown out distracting noises. Meditation and self-hypnosis apps can calm and distract a worried mind.
For example, I go to sleep with Andrew Johnson's Deep Sleep app every night, and I played it for my dad when he was living with Alzheimer's. Other apps to consider are Calm, Sleep Cycle, InsightTimer and Headspace.
Alarm and notification gadgets. It's important for caregivers to feel confident that even if they sleep soundly, they will wake up if needed. Useful products include floor-mat alarms, bed- or chair-pad alarms, motion-sensor alarms, door alarms, audio monitors and video camera monitors.
2. A break
Meal delivery services. Services such as Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Home Chef, Martha & Marley Spoon and Green Chef deliver all the ingredients for a meal with cooking instructions. Sun Basket does the same, with a focus on organic and non-GMO ingredients.
You can also order prepared meals for delivery from companies like Freshly, Diet-to-Go or Silver Cuisine by bistroMD (which specializes in meeting the nutritional needs of people 50 and over). Check for plans that address special dietary needs like gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan or low-carb meals. Some even offer meals that fit the keto or paleo plans.
Paid care. It's best to let the caregivers in your life choose their own paid care providers (AARP and the Alzheimer's Association's Community Resource Finder is a good place to start looking), but you might help research options and pay the bill. Even just a few off-duty hours a week can make a big difference for a family caregiver.
Your time. Offer to take over caregiving duties for a period of time. If you're not comfortable providing care by yourself, offer to come by and assist. It can be a huge help to have an extra pair of hands.
Too far away for that? Offer to research health conditions and treatments, find the best price for caregiving supplies, shop online for clothing or order groceries to be delivered. You could also help caregivers find free or affordable ongoing respite care or adult day care by contacting their local Area Agency on Aging (search in the Eldercare Locator, a federal directory of services for seniors).
Fun and pampering. Make a gift of a spa day, massage, mani-pedi, movie or theater tickets, a garden tour, wine-and-paint date or round of golf — whatever the caregivers in your life enjoy. If they have a gift certificate to use or an outing to look forward to (schedule it for them!), they might actually make the time to follow through. It's nice to also help arrange for care so taking a break is feasible.
3. Comfort and joy
Gift basket or treat-of-the-month club. From cookies to cheeses to wine or beer, it's always a lift to get something yummy in the mail.
Coffee shop gift card. I can attest that sometimes the most warm and fuzzy positive experience in my day is simply getting a good cup of coffee or tea.
Cheerful flowers. Getting a flower delivery makes us all feel special. (Fresh flowers might be better for some than a plant that requires a lot of time and attention.)
Messages of encouragement. Send caregivers a greeting card every week or month that expresses your admiration, appreciation and faith in them. Try Greeting Card Universe, Hallmark, CafePress or the Senior Shower Project's Caregiver Cards. You can order cards online and have them sent directly to a caregiver.
A funny book or movie. Laughter is good for the body and soul. Think about the caregivers’ taste in humor, of course — they may not laugh at the same things you find funny.
Decorations. Help busy caregivers decorate for the holidays — or do it for them — so they can more fully experience seasonal joys.
Caregivers often feel invisible, so, honestly, even the smallest gift, if it shows you are thinking of them and you appreciate the effort they're making for their (and perhaps your) loved ones, is a beautiful thing.
Editor's note: This column, originally published in December 2016, has been updated with new gift ideas.
What not to give caregivers
Here are a few no-nos when scouting presents for family caregivers.
- Don't get anything that will wind up costing us more time or energy, or that is unrealistic to use. For example, don't get a digital picture frame that requires us to organize and download photos — it will never happen. (On the other hand, a frame with photos already downloaded would be great.)
- Don't get anything that needs assembly, unless you (or someone you hire) will put it together for us. Gifts that are projects are no gift to a busy caregiver.
- And please don't get us a fantastic weeklong vacation if we can't take that much time away from caregiving. If we can, however, by all means go for it and help arrange for our loved ones’ care while we are away!
– Amy Goyer