Making distinctions between gift suggestions in categories 1 and 2 has been more difficult than I imagined. The good news: most gifts in Category One seem helpful to all older people. Some additonal Category One suggestions are below. Category Two gifts follow.
Gifts that lift the spirit
Amaryllis plant: Easy care. Flowers are showy, beautiful and reflect the holdiay season. The plants, from which the flower stalk has already started growing, are in flower shops, gardening centers, and grocery stores (Trader Joes has a nice supply in my area). It takes a week or two for the buds to open, depending how far along they are. Bright light helps them open faster. Blooms last about a week in an enviornment that is not too warm and where the soil is kept damp, but not soggy. Check with a salesperson and purchase ones now whose buds aren't yet open if you want them to look beautiful for Christmas. Watching nature unford is uplifing.
Snuggie: from my then 9-year-old niece, Lilli, who requested one of these fleese, blanket-like, sleeve added "garmets" for Christmas last year, to older people who want to wrap up in a warm, comfy way in a chair or on the sofa, this is a welcome, fairly inexpensive gift. Google "snuggie". there are some money saving offers during the holiday season.
Specialty magazines. According to my unofficial advisors (I susbscribe to none of these) check out: Art and Antiques, Bon Appetit, Kiplinger's Personal Finance (http://www.kiplinger.com/), National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Travel and Leisure. While I don't subscribe, I like Harper's Bazaar (http://www.harpersbazaar.com/) with its "Fabulous at Every Age" section. Don't we love getting mail that isn't junk?
Latest photos of the family, children and grandchildren.
Anything made by a grandchild.
Gifts that lift the spirit continues. Our Category Two gift recipients drive or have easy access to purchase what they need.
Memberships. Depending on parents' interests, memberships to: botanical gardens, museums (art, natural history etc.), historical societies, zoos, libraries, woman's clubs, etc. Many offer exhibits and members' meetings and most offer lectures and send timely, informative magazines. In New York City, for example, the 92nd Street Y offers a wide variety timely, stimulating programs--lectures, concerts, classes. In many of today's libraries card holders can check out everything from DVDs and movies to books formatted for the Kindle.
Tickets for parents to attend or take a friend or go with you to a concert, performance, sporting event, the theatre, dog show, boat show, auto show, flower show etc.
Invitation to go on a trip with you--a short trip to a nearby beach or lake (if you live near water) or the mountains or a more involved trip (cruise, group tour). For far-away-living children, taking care of arrangements for parents to come for a visit is usually a very precious and welcome gift.
Subscribe to a premium channel for your parents' TV (eg. HBO, Showtime, a sports channel).
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Lastly, my gift for you or anyone whose grip has become weaker with age. A suggestion for a jar-opener that costs nothing-- a somewhat wide rubber band that you stretch around the lid of a jar. It grips the lid making it easy to turn and thus easy to open. Somewhat wide rubber bands are found on produce (like celery) in grocery stores that don't use twist-ties for that purpose. Rubber gloves may also accomplish this, but they're bulkier and cost money. Happy shopping!