Christmas Gift Ideas for Seniors

Shopping for friends and family members who are older can be challenging. More than likely they have down-sized or are in the process of doing so. Space and storage are at a premium if they live in assisted-living apartments or receive skilled nursing care.

Don’t despair. Here are 10 fun and practical ideas that can make gift-giving at any time of year a little easier.


Despite the stereotypes, many seniors are comfortable using technology. Give a tablet or a smart phone so they can video-chat with family members and friends through Skype or Facetime. Upload favorite songs to an iPod or MP3 player. Subscribe your loved one to a podcast or two that they’ll enjoy. Don’t forget to include a wireless speaker.

If your friend or family member loves to read, invest in some large print books. For those whose sight is diminished or who prefer listening to reading, look for books on tape or consider giving them a subscription to a service like Audible.

Homemade Treats

Frosted sugar cookies, lefse, pecan pie … we all have a favorite treat that makes Christmas special. If your loved one no longer bakes or cooks, make sure she gets hers. If she has access to a kitchen or is able to visit you, invite her to make the treat with you.

Special Outing

If your friend or family member doesn’t drive anymore, invite him on a special outing. Drive around and look at the Christmas lights. Visit a popular bakery for pie and coffee. Purchase tickets to a concert, sporting event or theater attraction.


Everybody enjoys a good game, and it may be time for an upgrade. Consider purchasing large-print playing cards or a card holder for your favorite card-shark. Help keep minds sharp by giving Scrabble, crossword puzzles, find-a-word puzzles and Sudoku.


Sheets and towels among those items that everyone uses, but procrastinate to replace. Offer the gift of a nice set of sheets in a soft flannel or smooth cotton. Large bath towels that are actually big enough to wrap around the body can be an unexpected luxury item. Want to make it fancy? Get them monogrammed.

Flower arrangements

Whether it’s a one-time gift or monthly delivery, a flower arrangement brightens anyone’s day. Call a local floral shop for the best recommendations.

Basket of Toiletries

Put together a basket filled with your senior’s favorite toiletries: flavored lip balm, scent-free lotion, aftershave, and deodorant. Include some trial-sized items like wipes, facial tissues, and hand sanitizers that can be easily stored in a pocket or in a bag attached to a walker or wheelchair. Include a flashlight or nightlight.

Gripping Devices

Arthritis, loss of strength and dexterity can make it difficult for some older friends and family members to complete even simple tasks. Give assistive devices that make it easier to do everything from opening canned goods to gardening to fastening buttons.

Greeting Cards

For someone who doesn’t leave home often, letters and cards are a lifeline to loved ones all around the world. Give a box of all-occasion greeting cards. Add a roll of Forever stamps and an address book with updated postal and email addresses for family members and close friends.

Riewer and Johnson Named to 50 for Next 50

Jon Riewer
President & CEO

Jon Riewer, CEO, and Nathan Johnson, Executive Director, Eventide Senior Living Communities, have been named to LeadingAge Minnesota’s 50 for the Next 50. 50 for the Next 50 recognizes innovative and influential leaders who are charting the course for the next wave of older adult services that will empower Minnesotans to age well and live fully.

“50 for the Next 50 are pioneers, challenging the status quo to transform and enhance the experience of aging” said Gayle Kvenvold, President and CEO, LeadingAge Minnesota. “These leaders are making forward-looking innovations in service delivery, elevating the profession of caregiving and best preparing Minnesota for the future needs of its aging population. We are energized by what lies ahead with the mix of these experienced and next generation leaders at the helm.”

The 50 for the Next 50 represent a broad array of professionals who work on behalf of older adults in senior living, adult day services, home care and skilled nursing as well as organizations that support long term services and support throughout Minnesota.

Nathan Johnson
Executive Director, Eventide Moorhead

Riewer has over 24 years of experience in healthcare administration serving the communities of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Cokato, Minn., and Cando, ND. Riewer has a BA in Health Services Administration from Concordia College and an MBA from the University of Mary. Under his leadership, Eventide has grown to serve more than 1,200 seniors daily with more than 1,400 staff. He has also served as Chair of both the LeadingAge MN Board of Directors and the FMWF Chamber of Commerce. He is a past-president of the Moorhead Rotary Club and has served on the board of the Moorhead EDA and various NDLTCA, LeadingAge MN and LeadingAge national committees.

Johnson has over six years of experience in healthcare administration and has been with Eventide since 2016. He is a graduate of Concordia College’s Healthcare Management Program. Johnson is a board member with the political action committee for LeadingAge MN, is a on the board for the Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators and is a member of the Moorhead Rotary.

The 50 for Next 50 were recognized as part of LeadingAge Minnesota’s 50th Anniversary. Founded in 1967, LeadingAge Minnesota is the state’s largest association of organizations serving older adults. Together with more than 50,000 caregivers, our members provide quality, compassionate services and support to nearly 70,000 older adults every day in all the places they call home.

Widow of ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ Author Shares Message of Hope

The day that Dr. Lucy Kalanithi’s husband was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, he turned to his wife and said: “I want you to remarry after I die.”

To outsiders, it may have seemed like an odd or even inappropriate comment. As Kalanithi describes it, the declaration gave the couple permission to talk openly about often taboo subjects: the time they had left together and Lucy’s future without him.

Kalanithi is the widow of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of the New York Times bestseller When Breath Becomes Air. The memoir documents the young neurosurgeon’s cancer diagnosis and his quest to determine what makes life worth living.

Lucy Kalanithi wrote the epilogue to her husband’s memoir and now speaks about patient-centered care and end-of-life care. She presented at Eventide’s Leaders in Living, an annual community education series, in late September. Kevin Wallevand, reporter at WDAY-TV, moderated the event.

Kalanithi’s message was one of hope and love, even in the shadows of death. She emphasized a line from the memoir: “The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

Lucy and Paul met in 2003 as first-year medical students at Yale University. They married in 2006 and funneled their energies into their residencies: his as a neurosurgeon; hers as an internist. Just as the end of those stressful years came into sight, Paul received his diagnosis.

Prior to those circumstances, both young doctors practiced matching medical treatments to the values of their patients. They believed that physicians had a responsibility to understand how their patients wanted to live before helping them determine a course of medical action.

Overnight, that philosophy became personal. The couple not only faced mortality, but followed the question of what makes one’s life meaningful.

“In healthcare, we treat everything as an acute problem,” Kalanithi said. “That isn’t always the best decision when treating a person with a terminal disease.”

Paul believed deeply that until he died, he was living. For the Kalanithis that meant that Lucy supported Paul’s decision to return to work after his diagnosis. “I told him that whatever makes this time meaningful for you and keeps your claws on this world, do that,” she said.

It meant choosing to have a child, even knowing that Paul would not live to see him or her grow up. As they discussed the possibility, Lucy asked Paul if having a baby would make it harder to die. His response: “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” Their daughter, Cady, is now 3.

There were challenges to Paul’s transition from physician to patient. Both Lucy and Paul were surprised at the upheaval of identity that accompanied his terminal illness.

“Your future concept of yourself reflects on who you are now,” Kalanithi said. “If your purpose evaporates, it takes real work to rebuild that.”

Paul spent the last year of his life writing. His book proposal was accepted for publication a few months before he died at age 37. Now Lucy carries his message to others, encouraging individuals and families to face taboos and fears as they navigate serious illness and care.

Every individual, every family will face death, “and you can be resilient through these things,” Kalanithi said. “It’s a human thing to hope for the best.”


During her presentation, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi recommended additional resources for families facing serious illness and care.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
After the Diagnosis by Julian Seifter, MD
The Conversation by Angelo E. Volandes, MD

Questions about Senior Living? We Can Help.

Sifting through information about living options for older adults can be overwhelming. 

What kind of housing is there? Is my mom ready for assisted living? How much will it cost? What services will I need as I age? Will Medicare pay for anything? Do I have enough financial resources to live in a senior community?  How long can I live comfortably in my current home?

Mary O’Brien wants to take the fear and confusion out of those questions.

Mary is a senior living advisor at Eventide Senior Living Communities, which offers a continuum of care from home services to hospice. Her role, new to the organization, is to serve as a first-stop resource for families and individuals who have questions about senior living options, payment and more.

“Lots of times people don’t even know where to start,” she says. “I’m here to give validity to every question somebody has. Even if you have no idea what to ask, you can call me.”

As a faith-based nonprofit, Eventide strives to meet the needs of the Minnesota and North Dakota communities it serves. Helping families navigate options for aging adults is just one more way it lives out its mission to empower older adults and families to thrive.

Mary sees her role as twofold: being an advocate for families and serving as a resource for the public. She believes strongly in the value of senior living arrangements that nurture relationships and security. That conviction comes from her own experience.

She has a deep relationship with her own grandparents, often Skyping with them three times a week. Her mother passed away when she was young, and her grandparents stepped in to help raise her. Some of her fondest memories include going to church on Sunday and then having a big family dinner at her grandparents’ home.

“I want every person who is aging to have connections like that, whether they are residents at Eventide or somewhere else,” she says. “Everyone deserves to be valued throughout their entire lives.”

Accompanying families as they gather information and sort through options is a privilege, she says.

Mary has talked with Eventide residents, asking what it was like to move into a senior living community. Those conversations help her to guide others as they seek the right care and amenities for themselves or their loved ones.

“It’s really about helping everybody find their community, that warm, home-like setting where they feel safe, encouraged and engaged,” Mary says. “If I can help take away some of the stress as families make those decisions, I’ll have done my job.”

If you have any questions about senior living or services, contact Mary at 218-291-2200 or

Eventide’s Annual Benefit Auction is October 20!

Benefit Auction and Wine Tasting

October 20, 2017 at 6 p.m.

Avalon Event Center,  2525 9th Ave S, Fargo

Please join us for an evening of fine wine, a silent auction, and entertainment by C. Willi Myles.

All proceeds benefit the residents of Eventide.

NEW THIS YEAR – Mobile Bidding! Bring your smart device to make bidding easy! If you don’t have one, don’t worry! Bidding stations will be available.

Get your tickets here!

Why Volunteer? It’s Good for You and Others!

When it comes to volunteering, it’s hard to know who benefits more: the person donating the time or those who are on the receiving end.

After all, research has proven that volunteering provides mental and physical health benefits for those doing the helping. The Corporation for National and Community Volunteering has found that people who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who don’t volunteer at all.

This is good news for Eventide Senior Living Communities, where more than 400 people volunteer each year.

“Volunteers are a huge asset to us,” says Kaley Harms, Director of Life Enrichment. “They bring an energy to our facilities that you can’t match.”

Volunteers serve in a variety of ways: one-one visits with residents, leading worship services, assisting with activities, gardening and more. Regardless of the role, volunteers provide a connection to the outside community, Harms says. That’s especially important for seniors who can’t easily leave their residence.

“We find that most of our residents improve their quality of life when they move here,” Harms says. “They socialize more, and volunteers are a part of that.”

Volunteers can devote a few hours each week, a few hours each month or can be available on an “as needed” basis. They share coffee and conversation or take a walk outside. Some volunteers help residents with computers and other technology.

Other opportunities include:

  • assisting with activities and special events
  • gardening
  • escorting residents to salon and wellness center
  • assisting in the office
  • performing special music
  • leading educational programs
  • accompanying to worship services
  • bringing pets to visit

Students as young as 11 can volunteer at Eventide. These junior volunteers often help by transporting residents from their room to an activity area or serving coffee. Church confirmation groups, school groups and youth organizations can work with Eventide to find an appropriate time and activity where lots of students can volunteer.

The senior living community also works closely with the area’s colleges. Some courses and programs require students to volunteer, Harms says. This requirement helps to bridge a generation gap and encourages seniors to learn from younger generations, and younger generations to learn from seniors.

Unless an individual is strongly committed to volunteering in a certain way, Harms encourages new volunteers to start by being matched to a resident. Regular one-on-one visits can be scheduled at any time, making it a flexible option. Once a volunteer is comfortable in the setting, he or she can choose something else based on interest or skill.

“The important thing is to know you’re making a difference in the lives of others. Our residents look forward to volunteers coming. They appreciate the connection,” Harms says. “And most of our volunteers say that they get a lot more than they give.”

To volunteer at Eventide, contact Kaley Harms at or (218) 291-2258. Or you can sign up online at:

Long-Distance Caregiving: 4 Ways to Stay in Touch from a Distance

Long-Distance Caregiving: 4 Ways to Stay in Touch from a Distance
Long-distance caregiving comes with a unique set of challenges, but it’s important for families to stay connected – no matter how many miles separate them. With technology and consistent communication, it’s possible to be intimately involved in your loved one’s care when he or she moves to assisted living or needs skilled nursing care.
“It’s really important for our population that families stay involved,” says Sarah Sjaaheim, Director of Social Services and Admissions at Eventide Senior Living Communities. “Nobody has to feel excluded because of distance.”
The National Institute on Aging defines a long-distance caregiver as anyone who lives an hour or more away from the person who needs assistance. These caregivers can take on any number of caregiving roles ranging from money management to clarifying insurance benefits to arranging care in a senior living community.

Here are some tips and tools for staying involved with your loved one’s care no matter where you live.

Even residents needing skilled nursing care are more tech savvy than ever, Sjaaheim says. Many residents are comfortable using smartphones and tablets, allowing families to keep in touch via video chat services like Facetime or Skype.

Family members might text back and forth throughout the day. These tools are valuable whether you live across town or across the country.
Technology also plays an important role when family members want to be part of healthcare decisions. Electronic medical records mean that, in some cases, family members can access test results and physician notes even before Eventide staff receive them, Sjaaheim says.

Even with technology available, families who want to stay close to loved ones shouldn’t dismiss the phone. Some families choose a regular time to call: for example, 7 each evening or 4 p.m. on Sundays. If staff know about this routine, they can help to make sure your loved one is available for the call, Sjaaheim says. If dementia has taken away a loved one’s ability to recognize family members by face, he or she may still be able to recognize and find comfort in familiar voices.

“If someone has regressed and is seeking you as a child or young adult, you won’t look familiar but your voice will be,” Sjaaheim says. Even a one-sided conversation can bring comfort to someone with memory loss.
The phone is also a great way to stay involved with care and daily activities. At Eventide, conference calls are a common way to keep out-of-state family members in the loop during quarterly care conferences. Everyone who wants to be involved can get up-to-date information about a relative’s health, progress and interest in activities. In between conferences, family members are encouraged to call the nursing station for information. These regular connections build trust between staff and family members, Sjaaheim says. It makes it easier to converse when a health crisis or decline happens.
Everybody loves to get mail. The message doesn’t need to be long; the touch point is what matters. Send a postcard from a place that your loved one once visited. Send a card with a sentence of two about something happening in your life. You could even mail a photo book or calendar filled with images from your loved one’s past. These photos can be of family members or past events.
“Anything that prompts dialogue or conversation is helpful,” Sjaaheim says. “Family is vital for bridging gaps and helping staff to understand what is important to an individual.”
In-Person Visits
Even with other options available, be sure to schedule in-person visits and to set priorities for those times. For example, do you want to accompany your mom to a medical appointment? Family members who don’t see a loved one regularly can provide helpful observations on how a loved one is adjusting and progressing. Sometimes it takes someone from out of town to notice decline, Sjaaheim says.

While much of the visit may be focused on caregiving duties, don’t forget to spend time relaxing and enjoying each others’ company. Above all, don’t let guilt for not being there every day get in the way of enjoying time with your loved one.
“If phone is the best we can do, you can still play a valuable role,” Sjaaheim says. “The important thing is that you stay involved. Time goes so quickly. Don’t waste it on guilt.”

Music Improves Resident Quality of Life

For music therapist Danielle Steffes, some of the most powerful tools are a guitar, rhythmic instruments and the human voice.
Shortly before lunch on a mid-May Monday, she gently quizzes a handful of residents at Eventide’s Moorhead campus who participate in one of her weekly music groups.

“Mothers are often known for giving us words of wisdom. Can you help finish these phrases?” she asks.

“The early bird …”

“… gets the worm,” says one woman.

“Actions speak louder …”

“… than words,” several interject.

Steffes walks around and hands out jingle bells, tambourines and shakers as she introduces the next musical activity. It is based on a song with its own words of wisdom: “Accentuate the Positive.”

“That’s a good one,” says one resident as group members begin to shake their instruments and sing along to a recording by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters.

The half hour session looks like a simple sing-a-long, but, in actuality, the music disguises therapy at work. The residents in long-term care work on range of motion as they shake instruments. Cognitive skills are strengthened as they remember song lyrics and common phrases. And it’s all done as they socialize and build community through song.

“Music is so motivating,” Steffes says. “I believe that it has the power to create instant change.”

Steffes is a board-certified and licensed music therapist who offers services to groups and individuals at all three
Eventide locations. The fulltime staff member designs activities that use music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.
For some residents, that means socializing as a member of Eventones, a choir that meets weekly. For other residents, that means a one-on-one session with Steffes who will play guitar chords to reduce anxiety. She’ll even create a personalized playlist for residents who may use music as an incentive to complete tasks.

“This gives Eventide residents something that a lot of facilities don’t offer,” she says.
Music is increasingly used to help seniors increase or maintain their level of physical, mental and social-emotional functioning, according to the American Music Therapy Association. Research shows that the intentional incorporation of music in a therapeutic setting can help a person maintain a quality of life. Steffes strives to identify the strengths and gifts of Eventide’s residents and enhance them. She also tries to match musical genres and time periods to the residents’ interests.

“I want them to be empowered,” she says. “What instruments do they want to play? What kind of songs do they want to sing or listen to? Everyone can participate no matter what abilities they’ve lost.”

One of her favorite stories is about a resident with anxiety who hollered at inappropriate times. He also tapped his foot vigorously. Steffes entered his room and started strumming guitar chords to the rhythm of his foot-tapping. Gradually, she was able to slow down the tapping and soothe the resident.

“He was more comfortable. And when residents are calmer and more comfortable, it’s also a safer environment for nurses, CNAs and other staff,” she says. “Music is powerful.”

Music also challenges residents and give them an opportunity to process their experiences. Steffes asked one of her groups to rewrite lyrics to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” The title of the new song? “Restless Leg Syndrome Blues.”

At the weekly gathering in the long-term care unit at the Moorhead campus, Steffes’ group ranges from six to a dozen residents.

They open with “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,” and they all are, singing and quietly clapping along.

Eventidings Newsletter | Spring 2017

Our Spring 2017 newsletter is now available! In it you’ll find:

  • How our Music Therapist is improving resident quality of life through music
  • Your Gifts in Action – Find out what the Eventide Foundation has been up to
  • Leaders in Living – Information about our upcoming Annual Community Education Series