Gift ideas for caregivers

Michelle Singletary
Columnist December 17, 2011

As you are thinking about what to get the people on your holiday shopping list, consider giving something special to those caring for an elderly relative or friend.

A lot of them are making enormous sacrifices. About one in six people who have a full-time or part-time job say that they have to care for an elderly family member, relative or friend, or someone with disabilities, according to Gallup research sponsored by Pfizer and ReACT (or Respect a Caregiver’s Time) — a coalition of corporations and organizations trying to address challenges faced by employee caregivers. The research found that workers are forced to miss an average of 6.6 days a year because of care-giving responsibilities.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

Amy Goyer, a family expert for AARP who is the primary caregiver for her elderly parents, recently wrote a wonderful blog about her holiday gift list that I’m sure speaks for a lot of people in the same situation.

“The gifts caregivers most want are not big-ticket items,” Goyer says. “They are the things that soothe our souls, give us a smile and make us feel less alone. This is an important and challenging time in our lives and we often have no idea how long it will continue.”

The majority of caregivers participating in the Gallup poll said they have been providing care for three years or more.

So what could you give a caregiver? Here are just a few things on Goyer’s list:

Listen. As my pastor often says, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Often caregivers want simply to vent or sound out a decision they have to make. “If you feel like you don’t know how to help the caregiver in your life,” Goyer says, “remember that sometimes just listening is indeed helping.”

Offer encouragement. Goyer writes: “I’m constantly questioning and trying to do things better! But what about the positives? What about the things I’m doing right?” I so identify with that plea. I’ve been the caregiver for several relatives, and it’s frustrating to get critical remarks that outweigh the number of times someone says you’re doing a good job, especially when the people with lots of opinions and criticism aren’t helping very much with the care-giving.

Help out. Here’s something people often say that Goyer believes isn’t very helpful: “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” People who are busy caring for others often don’t have the energy to list all the things they need help with doing. Or they may be too proud to ask for help. Be specific in what help you can offer.

Now that you know what a caregiver might need, here are some suggestions from me on how to make those wishes tangible for the holidays:

Create a gift certificate that gives the caregiver six 20-minute venting sessions. When the certificate is redeemed, just listen to whatever the caregiver needs to talk about. Money Management International, a credit-counseling agency, has a site where you can personalize a holiday gift certificate. You can choose from five backgrounds and type in what the recipient will receive. Go to www.regiftable.com and click on the link for “Gift Certificates.”

Find funny and encouraging greeting cards, and send one to the caregiver every month. Or set up a schedule to send a monthly e-card. You can find free e-cards at www.yahoo.americangreetings.com, www.smilebox.com, www.123greetings.com and www.hallmark.com. If you want access to premium cards, you might have to sign up for a subscription. And Goyer says don’t be offended if the person doesn’t have a chance to acknowledge the card.

Use the personalized gift certificate to volunteer for a regular household task. Gallup found that caregivers spend a lot of their time on tasks such as going shopping, doing laundry and providing transportation. Caregivers also have to take care of a lot of administrative-type responsibilities, such as researching care services, coordinating physician visits and managing financial matters. Give a gift certificate that offers to do a specific task, such as cooking a meal.

Buy a caregiver a gift certificate to a spa. Spafinder.com can help you find a spa facility in your area. (This gift might need to come with an offer to sit with the elderly relative while the person gets the spa treatment.)

For more gift-giving ideas, read Goyer’s blog. Go to www.aarp.org and search for “A Caregiver’s Christmas Wish List.”

This holiday, help bring some peace and joy to the caregivers you know.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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