This story is part of, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
"OMG, JUST USE THE #*&!@^$ SEAT PAD!" So concluded a conversation with my septuagenarian mom, so common it almost felt scripted. A diminutive woman seemingly devoid of vanity, my "spirited" mother routinely and vociferously resists such nuggets of sage daughterly wisdom, especially when it comes to purchases designed to maximize the comfort of her golden years. ("I'm fine," the old joke goes. "I'll just sit here in the dark.")
This particular verbal wrestling match involved a plush yet supportive ergonomic chair cushion that I just knew would help Mom more comfortably recover from a painful injury (more on this wonder item below). I happen to believe that, as parents age, this variety of daily luxury can feel humanizing, calming, and -- as a gift -- downright loving. It's a perspective I adopted years ago when my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I immediately launched into buying items intended to make small but significant improvements to his life, to fix any little thing we could control, in the face of so much we couldn't. And I do think it helped.
In that spirit, I'd like to share some of the best gifts I've bought my parents over the years, with an eye to solving everyday problems where I saw them, or adding extra comfort they didn't know they needed and then didn't want to go without. And in case you're wondering how the seat cushion story ends, my mom has since claimed it as her personal domain. See, Mom? "I told you so…"
I thought I was buying a seat cushion and lumbar support pillow for myself, during COVID-19 lockdown, so I could more comfortably work from the kitchen table for long stretches of the day. After my mom had an injury, I forced the pillow set on her -- and it now lives on her kitchen chair and she counts it among her possessions. While I was at it, I also bought her a different lumbar pillow for the couch, which I also use when I want a little more support for my desk chair. I can attest that both are used daily.
I'll spare you the nightmare scenarios that may feel familiar to others with aging parents, but suffice it to say that the Apple Watch was a necessary purchase. Fall detection paired with a passive alert system that doesn't require someone to physically push a button or make a phone call when they need help adds up to a lot of peace of mind. It was fun taking my mom to try on different bands at the Apple Store and decide which colors she wanted to flash from her wrist. And it's been awesome seeing her navigate some of the call and texting features on her own. Although I didn't technically purchase the Apple Watch on my own payment card, I do credit myself with giving the gift of, uh, a strong and rather brilliant "suggestion."
Many moons ago, I bought my dad a Samsung tablet that he used everywhere: On the couch, at night before bed and finally to push Netflix to the TV screen (in lieu of a smart TV). Don't tell, but I'm now scheming to buy my mom an iPad that would essentially live in the middle of the kitchen table, and which she could use for convenient and comfortable video calls with the grandkids, reading the news and as a digital clock, timer and weather report at-a-glance. Since she has an iPhone as well, the iPad selection is pretty much a no-brainer.
Electric kettles come in all shapes and prices, but what they have in common is very rapidly boiling water (or heating it to your desired preset temperature) without involving your stovetop. After studying abroad in the UK and seeing the light on electric kettles' ultimate convenience -- like making hot drinks and cutting pasta cooking time in half -- I started buying them as gifts. My parents were the very first recipients, and I'd argue that the convenience and utility of the electric kettle has become even more indispensable for my mom now. While pricier, I like this particular Breville model for its good looks, large capacity, cordless design, water-level viewing window and variable temperature settings.
Buying my mom a Lamicall phone stand is the gift that keeps on giving. It's light and easy to tote from room to room, giving the phone enough height to more comfortably read the screen without craning one's neck. A phone stand also makes reading the screen simple (say, while eating lunch), or talking on speakerphone. The adjustable hinge is extra handy for viewing the screen and for video calls, and the entire operation leaves plenty of room to snake a charger cable through. After buying this phone stand for my mom, I then bought three more to have all over my apartment. You could say I'm a fan.
When my dad got sick, one of the best decisions I made was to hire a photographer and make some memories before his cancer viciously progressed. The prints I made for myself are hung in a frame on the wall, where I can see them every day. In addition to framable prints, I also made a large canvas print of my parents embracing, which now hangs in my mom's home. I love that the more tangible canvas material elevates the photo to wall art while simultaneously making it feel more real. Mixbook is one service that offers canvas (as well as metal or acrylic) photo prints. Walmart is another.
I'm a huge fan of heating pads, but you know what's even better? A full size electric blanket. You can toss it on top of a couch or a bed to add plenty of luscious, localized comfort without having to bundle up in excess layers or rev your heating bill by warming up the whole house. For me, this was the ultimate solution to warming my parents' bones when slippers and bathrobes fail. Multiple heat settings, safety shut-off features and machine washable material really pushed it over the edge. (I'm also eyeing one for myself.)
The wide, saucer-shaped bowl, long handle and pleasant weight make these beautiful spoons perfect for almost everything -- eating soup, curries, rice dishes, spooning yogurt out of the tub, spooning anything out of any tub, really. In my family, these Korean stew and rice spoons are now the dominant, and most asked-for spoon of choice -- to the point they've been nicknamed "life-changing spoons."
You can buy long-handled spoons online or in many Asian markets. My personal preference is to get a set with round handles, not the thin kind with the flat ends. Prices vary, but they're not expensive either way -- say $16 for a pack of five good quality spoons, or even $10 for a pack of eight.
I'll spare you the details and family politics surrounding the toaster oven saga, so here's what you really need to know: You don't get extra points for hanging onto decades-old electronics. They are not part of the family. It's time to let them go. May I recommend this Breville Smart Oven Pro toaster oven I bought myself? As I said elsewhere, "It toasts, it broils, it roasts. And since it has a convection oven function, you can totally skip the separate air fryer -- and cook more stuff at once." (You can read more on that and these other kitchen items I'm obsessed with.)
For more items we're passionate about, here arewith (they also make amazing gifts), and the .