It’s a challenge to find the right gift even when the people you’re buying for aren’t so close to you. And when you’re finding the right gift for your aging parents – and in my case, a couple of grandmothers too! – the challenge is even greater. On one hand, they can’t do everything they used to do; on the other, I don’t want to be the one to remind them of that. So every year, I start by rehashing the same, standard ideas – maybe what’s being promoted in the stores – and it takes a few weeks until I can say, Aha! Yes, that’s the right gift!

The key, of course, is knowing the person to whom you’re giving and your own relationship to that person. So keep him or her in mind as you consider which of these ideas work for you.

Family Photograph Theme

Even before social media and selfies took over the world, a personalized gift that included pictures of the grandchildren was always welcome. A calendar with each month illustrating a new picture, mugs, mousepads, key chains, t-shirts, knit blankets, pillows – truly, the possibilities are endless. The most extensive option, perhaps, is an electronic picture frame with a digital chip. You can load a good number of pictures onto the chip, your parents or grandparents plug it in, and they see the family on regular rotation. My personal favorite here emphasizes the idea of a family portrait. Find a great picture, whether of the whole family or its cutest members, enlarge it, and print it on canvas. Now, you can make a gift not just of the family, but also of art!

What to keep in mind: A little advanced planning goes a long way here – selecting the photos you want to showcase, whatever medium you choose, can take a while – it’s time well spent, though, when you consider the photo(s) will likely be on display for some time to come.

Good-Eats Theme

Again, know your customers. Would they appreciate a fancy box of chocolate? A fine bottle of wine? Aged scotch? What about a large fruit basket? Or a gift certificate out to a restaurant of their choice? Alternatively, if your recipient still lives at home with a working kitchen (meaning, you aren’t worried about them burning the house down), cookbooks can also be nice. The hottest new thing is likely the kind of cookbook you can give with impunity – don’t worry that they already have it. When the Smitten Kitchen made the move from blog to book, it was a great present, for example. Niche cookbooks for their favorite kind of food also work: only soups, or smoothies, a focus on muffins or cookies, crockpot living, pasta in all its many forms, learning to make candy, finger-lickin’ hors dâoeurves – your options are endless.

What to keep in mind: If your family member has dietary considerations (diabetes, cholesterol issues, the ubiquitous allergy concern, or the requirements of blood thinners) these restrictions should influence whether you choose this theme and how you go about implementing it.

How you carry this next theme out depends on your family. If they are in an assisted care facility with a lot of time on their hands, that is one kind of present. If they refuse to retire, and you can only hope to induce them to take a few days of vacation, that is another kind of present. As it happens, I have both kinds.

Leisure Theme: Crafts

One of my grandmothers is very crafty – a few skeins of fancy wool, and she’s in heaven (and one of the grandchildren might soon have a gorgeous new scarf or sweater). Basically, any kind of kit that lets her do fine work with her hands works for her. One year, we found a make-your-own-ornaments-from-wooden-clothespins kit, and the following year, we had a whole slew of new little festive people made from clothespins to hang on our tree. Craft stores and yarn/fabric stores are lush sources for this kind of gift.

What to keep in mind: If arthritis and the like are interfering with your loved one’s crafty dexterity, try to avoid the little fiddly fine pieces that might have once been favorites. There are still plenty of ways to promote this kind of leisure!

Leisure Them: Games

A fine chess set. Even checkers. Certainly Go. Cribbage. Several elegant decks of cards. Traditional game players like my grandfather often appreciate the decorated accoutrements of the games they know and love. Another angle is the new breed of board games. The best of these tend to involve more people, and can be an intricate, strategic way to spend a few hours. My grandfather wasn’t around long enough to love those games, but the industry has so many diehard fans – Settlers of Catan (now: Catan), Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico – there’s a long list. Look for them in a brick-and-mortar bookstore or a toy store.

What to keep in mind: Be prepared to sit down and play the game too!

The Leisure Theme: Travel

If your parents are like mine – the refuse-to-retire type – they might be just as glad for the opportunity to loll around on the beach or on a cruise ship. Or they might relish the great outdoors and go camping and/or rock climbing. Or maybe they prefer museums and would prefer to pound the city pavement for several days. Assuming you aren’t making a gift of the tickets themselves, once you know the kind of travel they intend to do, you can refine your present. Still, some gifts apply across the board: a care package of travel-size – everything you could need – from toiletries to a small scissors, first aid kit, a digital camera that takes better pictures than their iPhones, a voucher for a nice meal out at their destination, and so on.

What to keep in mind: People travel differently; make sure that your gift will be appreciated by your recipient or consider a more generic travel gift.

Aging-Not-Aging Theme

Very few people want to admit to the infirmities that seem to accompany aging. But there are some tools that can alleviate those stresses in a gentle way that may be appreciated. A fancy magnifying glass with some heft and a lovely wood handle may help someone whose eyes have seen better days. An afghan for cold bones. Accessories for a walker. Even a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku that “keep my mind from melting,” as my dad likes to say. You get the idea.

What to keep in mind: How well your loved one is handling his or her own aging process should influence your decision as to whether this kind of gift is the right one.

Ye Olde Reliable Booke Theme

When in doubt, a book can just about always do the trick. There are the already mentioned cookbooks and puzzle books, of course. But since just about everyone on earth has interests, you can find something for everyone in a book store (or, these days, via Amazon). A new best-seller, the hottest new thing about military maneuvers at Normandy for a World War II buff, a few paperback mysteries by a favorite author, a first edition of an old favorite. Another option in this category is a Kindle or other e-reader. One big advantage of e-readers is that the owner controls the size of the print.

What to keep in mind: If your loved one is already master of a substantial library, choosing the right book – namely, one he or she doesn’t have – can be tricky. When in doubt, resort to subterfuge to find out whether the book you’re thinking of is in the collection – or whether a particular book has made it to the wish list.

Your options are many and diverse. Your challenge of choosing well awaits. But don’t forget: at the end of the day, whatever you decide, it’s the thought that counts!