Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternatives.
A 70th, 80th, 90th or even 100th birthday is an awesome milestone to celebrate and one that should recognized.
But what birthday gift do you give?
That's certainly a topic worth careful consideration, especially since seniors and grandparents are less likely to need more "stuff" and may also have less space as they've downsized.
My favorite way to handle birthdays for grandparents and senior citizens is a coordinated approach among family and friends.
By doing so, everyone's good intentions can be channeled into a gift idea that the birthday person will love.
My Top Recommendations for a Senior Citizen's 70th birthday, 80th birthday or 90th birthday:
Keep reading for more details, as well as a bonus idea that is one of my all-time favorite gifts!
Idea #1: Make their Heart Sing with a Keepsake Birthday Memory Box
At the risk of stating the obvious, seniors have lived a long time and touched many people’s lives.
A sentimental gift is a great way to celebrate the highlights of their life and reflect upon the impact they've had on others. Putting together a Keepsake Birthday Memory Box is a wonderful way to package all that goodness into one gift.
Three Easy Steps to Put Together a Keepsake Birthday Memory Box for a Parent…or Anyone Else
Ask family and friends to contribute memories and special wishes for your birthday person.
Some ideas that work well:
- Handwritten cards and notes (“Pops, I’ll never forget the time you…”)
- Favorite childhood photos
- "Official" family photos from weddings, baptisms, bat mitzvahs...
- Mementos of family lore or inside jokes (if your father always ate Wise potato chips on family road trips, you could include a bag)
- Hand-drawn pictures from the grandkids and great grandchildren.
Gather everything together and put into a box that says Happy 90th Birthday! on the top or another cheery sentiment.
Add a birthday card explaining the person is about to receive 70, 80 or 90 memories/wishes, or just mention there’s a whole lot of love inside!
Why a Box of Special Memories Will Be a Hit for a Milestone Birthday
- It reinforces how much they matter to others-as people near the latter chapters of their life, it's common for them to consider their regrets and what might have been. A box of special memories literally shows the difference they've made.
- It’s the gift that keeps on giving-Not only will they enjoy receiving a box chock full of things that are likely to make them smile, they can return to it again and again in the future and relive those happy memories.
- They are alive to enjoy all the kind words and sentiments-people often wait until it's too late to tell someone how much they love them or what a difference they made in their life. The Keepsake Birthday Memory Box is a way to capture the happiness while they are still alive to enjoy it.
- Heartfelt gifts don’t (usually) cost a lot- A birthday memory box relies far more heavily on sentiment than on material costs. This wallet-friendly approach is a great fit when people are already spending money on things like travel, lodging and food that may be involved with a birthday party.
Additional Suggestions to Make This Milestone Birthday Gift Really Special
- Number the items in the box to add a sense of gravitas to the presentation. You can write numbers on Post-Its or labels or toss the wishes into numbered envelopes.
- Coordinate this gift idea with family members and friends well in advance of their birthday so they have time to collect any photos or memorabilia they want to contribute.
- You may want to assign the number of memories you’re expecting each person to provide. (I did this idea for my mom’s 70th birthday and let’s just say, I hope she didn’t count the number of items as we fell far short of 70!)
I wish I had numbered the envelopes in this Keepsake Birthday Box for a friend.
Creative Ways to Gather Lots of Birthday Wishes or Memories
70 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot. Nor does 80 or 90 seconds
But 90 birthday wishes or memories?
That might sound overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a lot of contributors!
You can always round out memories and wishes from family and friends with:
- Historically significant events that would be of interest to your father-
- On this Date in History
- Famous birthday quotes
You can find a variety of resources online for newspaper headlines. Some of the sites require you to pay, while there are also some free options, like this Pinterest board from Ingrid Summa.
Idea #2: Give a Few of Their Most Favorite Things by Drafting a Gift Quarterback
Another gift idea is to pick a "theme" based on the birthday person's interests and have everyone contribute a small gift accordingly. This coordinated approach allows the overall gift to have "heft", plus the birthday person avoids receiving random things they may have no use or space for,
For example, if their cooking was legendary and they still love making dinner several nights a week, you might ask everyone to gift their favorite kitchen gadget. Similarly, if the person loves German literature, you could suggest everyone gift a book in this vein.
Benefits of Gifts Related to a Single Topic
- A narrow focus on a single area ensures that the birthday person will receive gifts they’ll enjoy.
- Establishing a theme not only provides direction, it also levels the playing field when it comes to how much people can and want to spend on a gift. No need to worry that the sibling who manages a hedge-fund will “outdo” the grade school teacher (though if I were general manager of the universe, people who spend their careers educating the next generation would be the ones earning the bigger paychecks!)
Draft a Gift Quarterback to Give Direction to Guests
Draft (or just assign someone 😀) to be The Gift Quarterback.
This person provides direction to guests about what to give and how to give it. They can indicate whether gifts should be brought to the party wrapped or if all unwrapped gifts will go into one large box that is given to the guest of honor.
In my experience party guests are DELIGHTED to be told how to handle gifts because it saves them time and energy, plus no one wants to be the odd one out.
Idea #3: Organize a Group Gift to Upgrade Their Technology
It’s hard to imagine our lives without our smartphones, computers and the Internet.
For most senior citizens?
The majority of their lives were spent without any of that stuff and they managed to fill their days just fine, thank you very much.
As a result, many individuals over the age of 70 aren’t well-versed in technology. Still others have a device, but it may be outdated. (You'll find plenty of flip phones in retirement communities!)
Sharing the Cost Means You Can Afford a Gift that Might Otherwise Be Out of Reach
For a milestone birthday gift, family and friends can pool their money and buy the birthday person that technology item that might otherwise be tough to afford on a fixed income.
Whether it's a new laptop computer that has enough memory for all their photos or a smartphone so they can see videos of the grandkids, new technology can help keep senior citizens better informed, better connected and potentially safer.
(Did I mention I worked at Intel for 17 years? 😀 )
But, before you go rushing off to Best Buy or checking out options on Amazon, please remember...
Things You Should Consider When Giving Gifts of Technology to Senior Citizens
Purchasing a new iPad, smartphone or computer as a gift is the easy part.
The hard part?
Making sure the birthday person can actually USE device!
According to the Pew Research Center, 73% of Americans aged 65 years old and older said they needed help setting up or using a new device. (That compares with 62% of people aged 50-64 years old; 36% of 30-49 year olds; and only 17% of those 18-29 years old.)
I know it’s not fun to think about things like software migration and network compatibility but...
Gifting a senior citizen a bright and shiny new device that doesn’t do what they want?
It's not much different than finding the exact toy you wanted under the tree on Christmas morning---only to find Santa didn’t include batteries.
Checklist for Helping Senior Citizens Successfully Use Technology Gifts
If your senior citizen is well-versed in technology or is just naturally curious about gadgets and is happy trouble shooting all afternoon, please disregard this section.
On the other hand, if they struggle to find the on/off switch for their cellphone, or swear the "Internet is broken" because Gmail won't send their email, keep reading.
The basics of gifting technology:
- Make sure they want it-if your senior citizen is adamant they don't need to learn to use a computer, be sure to probe this before purchasing a device.
- Protect it!: Consider gifting a new case or cover for the device. You wouldn't want that new iPad slipping onto the floor unprotected.
- Charge it: Ensure the new device comes with a charger
- Charge It in the Car: Depending on the individual, a car charger might also be nice
- Provide "Headroom": Purchase a device that will serve the birthday person well for the next several years (short term, it might save you money to buy a discontinued iPhone model; but when your senior citizen is frustrated they can't use the latest app in a few years, buying a newer model now will likely save you money in the long run)
- Hedge your bets: Depending on the individual, it may make sense to purchase insurance for the device. (When we upgraded my mom's iPad for her birthday, I opted for the insurance plan because her arthritis means that she drops things more often.)
- Adapt it as needed: There are many ways to make it easier for your senior to use the new device, especially if they have limited mobility or health issues. A great place to start is this really helpful article by Sally Abrahms that discusses the best tech gadgets for seniors and grandparents.
If the gift is the first device of its kind for the person:
- Teach Them: Consider signing the birthday person up for a class that teaches them how to use the device. Another option is to enlist a grandchild or hire a neighborhood teenager to help.
- Support Them: Unless the person is very technical, it's a good idea to plan for how any tech support issues will be handled.
- Connect Them: The device will need to be connected to...something. Gifting a cellphone without a contract for service renders it useless, much like the highest performing computer can't get online without an Internet connection.
- Make It Fun for Them: Install some favorite photos on their phone or as a screen saver on their iPad or computer. Bookmark a few websites you think they'll enjoy. If it's their first device, your recommendations can really improve their experience.
- Set expectations on any monthly fees: Make sure the senior citizen is clear on any regular service charges, as well as the person responsible for paying for them. I once had a conversation with an older woman who was convinced she only had to pay for cellphone service once--when she first got her cellphone. She was quite sad to learn that Verizon saw it differently,
If the gift replaces an existing device:
- Verify the upgrade path: Be clear on the make/model of their existing device to ensure an upgrade path exists
- Inventory their existing device: make a record of any apps and software that will need to be migrated, especially the ones they use frequently
- Review version compatibility of software: just because their 10-year old computer had no problem running Turbo Tax, it's not a guarantee that the software will run on a new machine. No one wants to find out in early April they can't file their taxes! 😀
- Ensure their existing device is backed-up: This will likely be necessary to migrate their information and juuuust in case they need anything off their old device, a
- Be especially careful with passwords!: Some people autosave their passwords, while others manually enter them each time. Find out how your senior handles passwords so they're not locked out of their favorite website on their new device.
- Identify the data migration plan: If the new device is a replacement for an older version, be sure there's a plan to migrate the data. If the birthday person can do it, terrific. If not, plan for someone else to do it.
Bonus Idea: The New York Times Birthday Book Gives Senior Citizens a Ride in a Time Machine
This idea is not exactly in keeping with the box of memories..but since we were just talking about historical events and newspapers, I had to mention it.
The New York Times offers a really special idea for any birthday. It's a bound coffee table book containing the front page of the newspaper from the day the person was born---and every birthday after that.
I especially love this gift because:
- Everyone loves things that are specifically relevant to them
- It's a fun and engaging way to see what has and hasn't changed over the past 70, 80 or 90 years (or any other time period you select). From politics to civil rights to sports and so much more, this customized book is like taking a ride in a time capsule.
- The story behind it is special. According to their website, the gift was "inspired by a New York mayor who wanted to present a personalized compendium of Times front pages to his mother for her 100th birthday." (Full disclaimer: I always love stories of boys who love their mamas!)
- It's a handsome gift! You can personalize the cover and select from a variety of materials and colors
- The price is right! For someone who is turning 90 years old, I'd happily spend $130 on this gift.
- It doesn't take up much space, so it works whether the senior citizen lives in a large house...or a nursing home.