The Best Holiday Gifts for Seniors

Technology drives many gift lists, but make sure the gift is needed and usable.

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Welcome to the age of gadgets, where Best Buy has become the new Toys 'R' Us. In assembling a gift list for seniors, there are plenty of goodies that either plug into an outlet or require a large intake of batteries. There's just no way around them. But experts drum home some cardinal rules:

1. Remember who the gift is really for.

2. Make sure the recipient has a use for the gift.

3. Make sure you or another family member can provide real-world tech support for the recipient. Your continued help needs to be part of the gift.

4. Do not saddle the recipient with monthly service charges or other hidden fees for your gift.

"To me the question is, 'What gift would be personally meaningful to a senior?'" says Dan Cohen, a social worker who looks at technology issues involving older people. "You know, seniors are not pining for another shirt or sweater." His gift, he explained via e-mail, satisfies an old need with a newer tool: "One item that will keep them engaged and give them pleasure is the gift of music. The iPod Shuffle is tailor-made for seniors. Once it's set up, to operate it all one has to do is click-on and click-off. Someone else who is already familiar with iTunes needs to learn what their favorite music is, obtain it, set up the playlist, and load it. If the senior knows how to operate a TV remote, they'll be able to handle this single-button operation."

[See The Top 10 Gifts for Seniors.]

Elie Gindi, founder of Eldergadget.com, has almost a spiritual view of the transformative effect of technology on the quality of seniors' lives. Like the real estate mantra "location, location, location," his repeated drumbeats for success are usability and simplicity. And his gift recommendations use technology to give seniors the abilities to defy some commonly held views about limited senior lifestyles.

"If it requires too many steps, takes too long to load, or is too hard to understand, people just don't have the patience to stay and use it," Gindi says. "In addition, the phobias and complexities associated with the technology of 10 years ago can be overcome today by spending 10 minutes with an iPad, or the operational simplicity of an iPhone, a point-and-shoot digital camera, a one-touch camcorder, touchscreen, and remote control."

[See Wii Sports Click with Seniors' Groups.]

With that, ElderGadget's top 10 list seems suitable for technophiles of any age:

1. Sprint HTC EVO smartphone: Sprint has captured a lot of buzz with a smartphone that uses the 4G bandwidth, which permits much faster downloads than 3G and lets most users forget about whether they're close to a WiFi connection. The EVO has an Android operating system and sports a 4.3-inch screen. It also includes a video camera, which can use the 4G bandwidth to take and stream videos.

2. Samsung Galaxy tablet: Since the Apple iPad launched in the spring, other manufacturers have been hustling to get their own tablet computing devices to market. Samsung's tablet has less screen area than the iPad, but it's less expensive, too. And unlike the iPad, it uses software that works with the Adobe software applications popular on many websites.

3. Apple MacBook Air laptop computer: Apple followed up its hugely successful iPad launch by coming out with an updated laptop. The Macbook Air is sliver-thin and offers a lot of iPad virtues along with the full capabilities of a powerful laptop computer. Air may be an exaggerated description of the product, but it is amazingly thin and compact.

4. Cisco Flip UltraHD: Cisco's original Flip has become a popular dedicated Internet video appliance. Now, Cisco is offering the Flip with high-definition capabilities. Think you'd be satisfied with "regular" HD? Now you can record friends and family in high definition using this popular pocket-sized digital camera.

5. Microsoft Kinect: Microsoft's Xbox video gaming console now comes with the Kinect module. Its motion-sensing software takes the online workout and sports-gaming experience to the next level. Users can interact with what they see on the video screen without needing to connect a controller.

6. The Nook (color): There have been a lot of improvements in eReaders, including price cuts. This color version of Barnes & Noble's eReader is a welcome enhancement that narrows the gap with the iPad, at least for reading a book.

7. Apple TV: If you've been reading about all the new ways to download Internet videos and other programming sources to your TV, Apple TV can be a good place to start. Its simplicity of use makes Internet television a reality for the digitally challenged—and it's reasonably priced, at about $100.

8. Panasonic Viera Plasma 3D TV: Recent product studies concluded that 3D televisions, the newest TVs on the block, deliver a superior viewing experience on plasma screens as opposed to LCD screens. Panasonic has long been a leader in large-screen plasma TVs. So if you want to take the still-pricey plunge into 3D TV and Santa is willing, the Viera may soon be calling to you from under the Christmas tree.

9. HP Touchsmart desktop computer: Apple's iPhone and iPad have done a great job popularizing touch-screen computing devices. But Apple was hardly alone in this space, and touch-screen devices have been around for years. Hewlett Packard has developed a desktop PC with an enormous 23-inch (diagonal) touchscreen monitor. The computer's hard drive is also built into the monitor, eliminating the need for an external tower.

10. Canon Revel T2i SLR camera: Yes, the smartphones and Flips of the world are great for photographing your feat of downing that grande burrito, and in real time, no less. But for serious photography, the Canon reflects a generation of affordable yet powerful digital cameras that even the pros respect.

If your neural net is not totally shorted out by this point, Home Instead Senior Care has come up with its practical list of what seniors really need. The caregiving company says it collected and evaluated tens of thousands of gift requests made to its charitable program "Be a Santa to a Senior." More than a million donated gifts have been given to seniors over the years. Here are the leading items:

1. Coffee maker

2. Microwave

3. Crock pot

4. TV remote

5. Large-button phone

6. DVD player

7. Radio

8. Pet snacks

9. Grills

10. Gift certificates

Twitter: @PhilMoeller