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Practical gifts win praise from older friends, family

DEAR ABBY: With the holidays here, I know people are considering gifts for older friends and family members. My 83-year-old mother still lives in her own home. She doesn't want more "stuff," so every year we give her practical things we know she already uses on a daily basis, including laundry detergent, bath oil beads and soap, toothpaste — even bird seed for her bird feeders. By the end of the year she has used up everything we have given her and is ready for new supplies.

Mom is happy with these gifts and says it saves her from having to go out and spend money on these things herself. Practical, everyday items make the best gifts for the older person on your list.


DEAR MARY: When seniors have reached a point where they have become less active, I agree. So please allow me to offer a few additional suggestions to your gift list.

With the cost of groceries what they are today, many individuals on fixed incomes would appreciate a gift basket of goodies such as small cans of tuna, salmon, chicken or soup. Also include crackers, assorted flavored instant coffee, herbal teas, soup mixes and cookies.

Gift certificates also make welcome gifts: for groceries, haircuts, manicures, dry cleaning, restaurant meals, theater tickets and department stores. And don't forget prepaid calling cards.

Homemade coupons for "Honey-do's" (as in "Honey, do this — Honey, do that") also make thoughtful presents. Create some that can be redeemed for chores such as window washing, painting, gardening, replacing lightbulbs, changing air conditioning filters, moving heavy furniture for spring and fall cleaning and transportation for shopping or doctors' visits, etc.

Because not all seniors drive, bus passes and coupons for senior transportation or taxis can also give the recipient the gift of freedom.

Sweat pants, sweatshirts, athletic socks and walking shoes may motivate the sedentary senior to get up and become more active — which improves circulation and cognition for people of every age.

Large-print calendars with family birthdays, anniversaries, etc. marked and personalized with family photos make useful gifts, and so do large-print address books with the information already transferred from the recipient's records.

Because medications are expensive, consider a gift certificate to the neighborhood pharmacy. It will be appreciated — trust me on that.

A subscription to a newspaper or magazine you know the person will enjoy is a gift that keeps on giving year-round. And, of course, stationery and stamps make handy gifts that can also be used throughout the year. While you're at it, enclose with them some felt-tipped pens.

If the person has a pet, send some cans of dog or cat food, a package of "treats," a rawhide chew or catnip.

And please don't forget that the holiday season can be a depressing time for people who are alone. I'm often asked for gift ideas for the person who "already has everything." And this is my answer: The greatest gift a person can offer is the gift of yourself. If someone you know could use an outing, give the most meaningful gift of all — an invitation to share a meal with you or your family.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.