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12 Holiday Gifts to Stave off Isolation and Loneliness

  • Posted: 11.18.2020
wrapped Christmas gift
Image: Safe Electricity

This has been a year like no other, and as we head into the holiday season, take extra care to help those close to you (or far away) who are isolated, alone and vulnerable to getting sick. Your efforts may make the difference between hope and despair.

The holidays will probably be difficult for many of your older or immuno-compromised neighbors, friends and family members. You may be at a loss on how to help if you’re not able to be with them physically during this important family-based season.

So what can you do? Look for ways to cheer them and to help them feel a part of your family or friendship circle in the safest ways possible. Inspire the holiday spirit by keeping in touch; use these 12 suggestions (one, each, for the traditional 12 days of Christmas!) to jumpstart your gift-giving this year.

P.S. There’s an added bonus: Some of these suggestions may also improve your own mood and outlook on life:

  • Put together a family or holiday photo book (through a service such as Shutterfly or Snapfish) with memories of a family gathering, pictures of their grandkids involved in fun activities or any other meaningful and hopeful images.
  • Deliver a plant to place in a sunny window. A living plant offers hope, gives the recipient something to care for and may even offer some health benefits, including mood boosting and stress reduction.
  • Splurge on a gift subscription to a TV streaming service (Hulu, Prime, Netflix, Disney, ESPN) or a music service such as Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon music. Similar gifts that may be welcome are a Meditation app (Calm, Headspace) or a Kindle or Audible subscription for books or audio books.
  • If your friend or relative is totally low-tech, gift them with audio books on CD (assuming they have a CD player) or a supply of “real” books to get them through an extended period of isolation. If necessary, choose large-print versions. In this same vein, offer to make trips to and from the library to keep them supplied with reading material.
  • For older adults, learning new technology such as Zoom or the finer points of smart phones can have a steep learning curve; providing a year of phone technical support can open up new ways to communicate with those outside their household.
  • A hobby refresh can offer hours of enjoyment. Check out craft supplies for a skill your recipient already enjoys (or conversely, kits for a new craft the person seems to be interested in or might be willing or able to try) including embroidery, knitting or crochet; model airplanes or cars, woodworking or music. One perceptive son sent his mom an electronic keyboard and a refresher book; she had played piano in her youth and is enjoying relearning old favorite songs.
  • To take hobbies to the next level, schedule regular times for you to paint or knit (or work together on your individual-yet-together hobbies) over Zoom or FaceTime. Not only will you both enjoy catching up on your crafting time, but you’ll have committed time to chat about the projects and catch up with a healthy dose of family or local gossip.
  • Jigsaw puzzles, or crossword puzzle or Sudoku books, are a good way to keep an isolated person’s brain fully functioning. To go one step further, set up times to play games with him or her virtually. Some that can be converted to virtual games include Pictionary, Monopoly, Bingo, 20 Questions, Trivia and Charades. Others can be played through a virtual games app.
  • Curate a list of sites for your recipient to visit based on their interests. These may include museum tours, national parks and music or theater events.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of older adults. If your relative or friend complains that their eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be, a magnifying floor lamp can make reading, needlework and puzzle work easier. For those who are always on the chilly side, an electric lap blanket is a real comfort. For those who hate to cook for themselves or have trouble managing grocery shopping, scheduling regular deliveries of nutritious meals from their favorite restaurants can ensure they don’t get lax on eating properly. For a personal touch, provide batches of frozen cooked soups, casseroles and other tempting foods that can be heated in the microwave. Other suggestions include homemade cocoa mix or a basket of fruit for healthy nibbling.
  • An old-fashioned handmade coupon book can give the recipient permission to call on you for assistance. Include tasks personalized for them, such as shoveling their walks/driveway, picking up and delivering groceries, walking their dog on a snowy/icy day, or something decadent such as dessert delivery (one family gave their sweets-loving father a “dessert of the month,” with each child taking a turn at delivering or shipping a family-fave dessert item such as brownies, pies and cookies). An added bonus for a monthly delivery is that it allows you to keep in touch and check in on the recipient via phone or in person.
  • To help the recipient keep track of the days and weeks as they fly by, send a daily calendar with a tear-off joke, inspirational saying or even one you make with family photos and reminders of birthdays and anniversaries.