Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

Think Practical When Buying Gifts for Seniors

DEAR READERS: If you haven't already started, it's time to compile those Christmas lists. Every year I am asked to suggest thoughtful gifts for seniors -- especially those living on a fixed income.

First, a gentle warning: Unless you are sure it is welcome, do NOT send cologne, aftershave or scented bath powder. Scents are highly personal; not every perfume works on every person.

Never give a pet to anyone unless you have made absolutely certain the person wants one and is able to properly care for it.

Unless you're sure they imbibe, refrain from giving alcoholic beverages to people. Also, while candy, nuts and holiday confections make beautiful gifts for those who are not counting calories, show compassion for those who must, and lead them not into temptation.

Many folks on fixed incomes would welcome a gift basket of goodies. Include small cans of tuna, chicken or stew; assorted flavored instant coffee and herbal teas; soup mixes, crackers, cookies, nuts, dried fruit and hot breakfast cereal. Or, fill their freezer with frozen home-cooked meals that can be microwaved in minutes.

Gift certificates can be a godsend. Give them certificates for groceries, haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages, dry cleaning, restaurant meals, video rentals and department stores. Tickets make great gifts -- to movies, concerts, the opera, a play (could be at a local community theater) and sporting events.

Homemade coupons for "Honey-do's" ("Honey, do this -- and honey, do that") make thoughtful presents: Create some that are redeemable for chores such as window washing, painting, gardening, washing, waxing and car detailing, replacing light bulbs, cleaning ceiling fans, changing air-conditioning filters, moving heavy furniture for spring and fall cleaning, and transportation for shopping or doctors' visits, etc.

Because not all seniors drive, bus passes and coupons for senior transportation or taxis can come in handy.

Prepayment of utilities for a month or two can be sent directly to the utility. Then let the recipients know they have that "extra" money to spend as they wish. We all know medications are notoriously expensive. A gift certificate to the neighborhood pharmacy would also be much appreciated. (Trust me on that!)

For pet owners, remember their furry, four-legged family member with a treat -- a can of dog or cat food or a rawhide chewstick or catnip toy. (They'll lap it up!)

A subscription to a magazine or newspaper you know the person will enjoy is a gift that keeps on giving. Large-print calendars with family birthdays, anniversaries, etc., marked and personalized with family photographs, are welcome, as are large-print address books with information transferred from the recipient's records.

Give a small radio or remote-control television, if finances permit. A cordless phone or answering machine makes a practical gift as well.

Other suggestions: a cuddly robe, slippers or socks with nonskid soles; sweatpants, sweatshirts and jogging shoes; stationery -- and be sure to include felt-tipped pens and lots of stamps.

And remember, the holidays can be a sad time for people who are alone. If you know someone who could use an outing, give that person the most thoughtful gift of all -- an invitation to have a meal with you and your family. Loneliness is the ultimate poverty. The greatest gift is a gift of self.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Dear Abby