The elephant under the Christmas tree…

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Twinkling lights tantalize Christmas shoppers browsing the high street for inspiration; and, glossy magazines are full of Yule-tide gift ideas for the adventurous, creative or barbeque-obsessed members of our families. But what should we buy for our loved one – an aunt, brother or neighbour – who is currently struggling with a health challenge?

Traditional gifts of perfume, golf socks or bath salts might be just the thing they’re after but some of the more popular gift ideas can be inappropriate or simply a waste of money if the recipient is in hospital or can not move by themselves. And yet, for fear of upsetting this person we care about by talking to them about what they actually need to make their lives easier and more comfortable; for fear it will ‘remind’ them of their illness; we opt to ignore the ‘elephant’ beneath the Christmas tree and get them something…anything… no matter their circumstances.

How about, this year, instead of feeling awkward about the realities of the acute or chronic ill-health of our loved ones we acknowledge it, and look for gifts that will truly be appreciated and make a real difference to them in their daily lives?!  Instead of ignoring the ‘elephant’ beneath the Christmas tree, let’s talk about ways that we can help our loved ones to be more comfortable in their day-to-day, find something positive to distract or encourage them despite the trials of their sickness. Let’s help them feel like ‘more than a patient; a person’.

Luckily, these days, ill health does not have to mean stigma, isolation and boredom. Instead increased awareness of the needs of patients and technology advances have combined to provide a wealth of really good gift options:

  1. Clothing: who doesn’t like receiving a gift-wrapped package containing something new to wear?  Thanks to the elegant styling and incredible functionality of INGA Wellbeing’s men’s and women’s wear, even patients hooked up to IV lines, monitors and drains can get dressed and feel ready to greet their Christmas visitors looking… well, like themselves!  Enabling improved mobility and social interaction is also proven to improve mental and physical outcomes so it is not just the image you are improving, but their health. Add a favourite scarf or some pretty earrings and the ‘patient’ disappears from view, revealing only the person (and nothing else!)
  2. Meals-a-go-go: take the hassle out of cooking and ensure a regular supply of nutritious meals.  When you’re living with ill-health you have limited amounts of energy to get tasks done each day, and let’s face it most of us would rather spend more time with family and friends, having fun or getting on with our jobs than sorting out the family meal each night.  Think then what a great gift it would be to receive home-made meals on a regular basis! And now there is an app for that! Thanks to an online system, you can coordinate the goodwill of friends, family and neighbours and have them ‘sign up’ for a lunch or evening meal as a once off, daily, weekly or monthly gesture of support.  You can even specify dietary requirements and ensure the delivered meal is not lasagna five nights in a row.  A delicious way to show someone you that you care!
  3. Morale boost in a box – If balloons, flowers and fruit baskets spring to mind when you think of gifts for those who are hospitalised, think again. Several former patients, or loved ones of patients, have come up with far more interesting, useful and indulgent packages based on their own experiences of what helped sustain them through the difficult days of medical treatment.  You can select a package for delivery once, or on a regular basis.  Examples of such pampering packages are Boost Box or Healing Boxes.
  4. Boredom busters – One thing you do a lot of when having treatment for chronic conditions, such as chemotherapy or dialysis, is waiting around.  Waiting for the doctor, waiting for tests, for results, for treatments.  You’re often connected to devices or limited to the waiting room and boredom quickly sets in.  Gifts that help to make time pass faster are always gratefully appreciated; be it a subscription to a favourite magazine, or an iTunes vouchers to buy new music or apps; a compendium of puzzles or a book reading tablet.
  5. Time – ‘Do let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’ is a kind and genuine sentiment expressed by many to those they love that are experiencing ill-health, but it remains just words unless you really talk to the individual about their current experiences and needs and identify practical ways you can help. Perhaps you could walk the dog daily, or help with the school run? Perhaps they need help filling in some forms or going to the bank? It can feel awkward at first to discuss the details of another person’s lives but if it means you can really help them, it will be so appreciated.

Gift giving is all about showing that we care, and have spent time thinking about the ones we love.  Just as we make an effort to get the perfect thing for those who are well, we could meet the real needs/desires of those that are unwell, if we all spent a little more time asking them what they really need or want. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. Find out what would really make them feel special – whether it’s the promise of a day swimming with dolphins, longed-for four-inch heels or something that will ease the day-to-day of their condition – and in this way, you will make your loved one feel truly special this festive season.

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