Get some gear that can vastly improve your daily life and keep you living your life. Many of these are just generally thoughtful good gifts for a chronically ill person.
Cooling Scarf! This doesn’t afford me long walks in the hot sun, but it’s great for short ones. Helps with easing headaches and taking the edge off the heat. Sometimes the dog needs me to take him outside in the middle of hot weather, or I need to get into a hot car.
Cooling Vest. You can buy a cooling vest like this one with an array of cooling packs. You stick it in the freezer, then wear it to combat hot weather. The cooling power usually lasts for an hour or two.
Handheld fan. A little battery fan can tip the scales for making a warm environment tolerable. Maybe you want to push through to watch a game or be at the beach for a short while. The benefit of this thing is that it doesn’t need any prep or timing. Flip a switch and you’ll have some cooling action, making it great for emergencies or in a pinch.
Rice Heating Pad and Hand Warmers! Rice filled handwarmers and heating pads are great. My feet are almost always freezing, unless they’re swollen red hot radiators. I pop in my owl heating pad into the microwave every night and put it at the end of the bed. Helps with all the other random muscle aches I get too like coat-hanger pain. Here’s a great no-sew heating pad DIY from unsophisticook (skip the fragrance), and many more heating pad DIY’s on Pinterest.
One Year Wiser Gratitude Journal. I treated myself to this book last year. (Careful in gifting this, since it could come across as diminishing a person’s struggles.) My therapist kept telling me to write down a few things regularly that I was thankful for, but it didn’t happen consistently until I got a dedicated little book. Finding things that I can still be grateful for is good for my mental health, and it’s a great way to highlight my better days.
Pill Case! If you need to take pills (like midodrine) multiple times a day like I do, this is a winner. It took me a lot of time to find a decent BPA free one. Unlike other ones I’ve tried, this comes with an outer case that doesn’t pop open leaving pill confetti inside my bag. I arranged into a rainbow to channel some Lisa Frank… I do what I can.
Water Bottle! Investing in a quality water bottle seems obvious given the immense number of liters you need to be drinking. This is a great BPA free stainless steel insulated one, free of a metal taste you’ll find in some cheaper ones. The great insulation keeps your electrolyte drinks whatever temperature you prefer, and make sure the lid is easy and fast to open because you’ll be using it a lot… especially important in an attack.
Heart rate chest strap monitor. For exercise, this keeps me in a safe range. It’s way too easy for my heart rate to get way too high. I got a hot pink Polar FT4 heart rate monitor. Chest strap monitors are generally the most accurate heart rate sensors you’ll get, and the readout is sent to wristwatch, where you can set an alarm at a given heart rate you don’t want to exceed.
Heart rate and oxygen fingertip monitor. Also known as a fingertip pulse oximeter. For emergencies and flares, because the above chest strap monitor takes time to get on, and doesn’t measure your oxygen saturation. This was hard to spend the money on, but I tried cheaper models that just wouldn’t take a reading during an attack when my blood flow to my extremities is very poor. Pop this on your finger, just like the ones at the ER and spot check your pulse and oxygen. This helps to gauge how bad an attack is and when it’s time to get help.
Blood pressure monitor. This should’ve been recommended to you by a doctor if it hasn’t already. It’s vital to know what’s normal for you, and to know how medications and treatments are affecting your blood pressure. You’ll want to know if something’s helping, and if it’s time to seek medical help.
Medical alert jewelry. There are lots of aesthetic options out there. You may want to work with your doctor to see if this makes sense for you, especially if you don’t have traditional allergies.
Vogmask or Respro Masks. Vogmasks are very popular for those with scent sensitivities and allergies. A huge variety of beautiful patterns offer you a tiny dose of happy to a bleak accessory. Getting the right size on any mask is important so you can get a decent seal around your face to ensure most of the incoming air is forced through the filter. (This can be trickier with beards.) The Vogmask filter is made from coconut derived charcoal and rated N99, the filter itself blocks 99% particles over .3 microns. On their site you can also purchase an adjustable head-strap accessory for better fit easier on the ears. Vogmask are great at reducing exposure, but Respro masks offers even more robust and longer-wear options.
Activated Charcoal Bags. For odor and some moisture control. Activated charcoal is made by processing charcoal to create a very porous structure with much more surface area, increasing its adsorption potential. For people who are chemically and scent sensitive these can pull out a wide range of airborne chemicals, but some chemicals aren’t adsorbed. The charcoal can be reused to an extent, because the chemicals that get “sucked” up by them are essentially just weakly latched to the charcoal surface (via van der Waals forces). So by heating the charcoal slightly, say outside in hot sunshine, many of those adsorbed chemicals are liberated making fresh space for new ones.
Notebooks! For daily health records, I insisted on getting something that cheered me up to look at for the monotonous and somewhat dispiriting task. I note the gritty details of my food, drug, activity, sleep, etc. every day. I also sum up each day rating both my physical and mental health separately from a scale from 1 to 10. This helps to identify general trends as I look back on my health. I consider keeping these records a necessity. Decomposition notebooks by Michael Roger.
Coloring Books! Maybe these are considered passé by now, but I still love mine. When I want to zone out for a little bit and think less, these are great. A great accompaniment is a bundle of quality color pencils like my favorite Prismacolors from my artsy days (bold, smooth, layerable colors). Makes a big difference.
House Plants! Get an air filtering, robust houseplant. I spend a lot of time inside, and bringing in live greenery really improves the space visually. It’s good for mental health, with the added benefit of some air filtering. Try a dracaena, English ivy or a peace lily. These are hard to kill and low maintenance, only needing water about once a week, making them great choices.
Portable Car Air Filter. For someone especially sensitive to smells, you can try something like the Aerus QuietPure Portable Air Filter that was recommended to me. It fits in a cupholder, helping keep your triggers at bay and your air a little healthier for everyone.
Salt Pig or Salt Crock! Easy access to salt for a pinch or measuring spoons. A POTSie can get a lot of use out of this. You could just use a cheap container on hand, but this is a luxury item… a treat if you will. The overhang does help keep dust and debris out a little better. My favorite chef Alton Brown explains why you need a salt pig. This is a great gift along with a nice bag of salt.
Salt shakers! Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a corresponding salt shaker. For something you’ll have to be using all the time, make it fun. Also, since you’ll be refilling it all the time, make sure it’s easy to refill.
Lightweight food containers. Get lightweight food grade stainless steel containers for keeping food and salt with you outside your home. A lot of us have to be careful about what we eat, so it’s nice to easily have our preferred food on hand for snacking as needed. A nice condiment size container is perfect for salt so you don’t have to rely on a salt shaker being around.
Vanicream products. People with the most severe allergies love the Vanicream products, and have gotten me hooked. Free of fragrance, lanolin and dye. I now use their sunscreen, moisturizing skin cream, and vaniply ointment at all times.
Dry shampoo. You’ll have days where you either won’t want to or simply can’t wash your hair. My first long stay in a hospital made me direly miss having fresh clean hair, and although I felt awful, finally getting my hair cleaned up surprisingly improved my sense of well-being. A lot of dry shampoos out there are fragrant and noxious, and you probably want to avoid an aerosol that blasts tons of particulate (you don’t want to be triggered), so you can find powders to sprinkle or brush in. If you’re especially conscious and sensitive, you can find homemade recipes. One is as simple as 1 part baking soda, 1 part corn starch or ground oatmeal. To gift it, put it in a pretty container or tin.
Blow dryer holder. If you prefer your hair blow dried, a hands free stand or holder will save you lots of energy, dizziness and arm tingling. I would’ve wanted one even without POTS.
Hosed shower head with additional holder. Depending on your existing shower set-up you may want to invest in a nice shower head with a hose so you can easily bathe and wash your hair sitting in the tub (or in a shower chair). You can also get an additional shower head holder installed lower down on the wall that secures stays by adhesive or vacuum. This is a great setup to have, and you may find others in your home enjoying it too. I like to stand at least part of the time for most showers, but my flares requiring sitting.
Zip pouches! These things make an easy grab for your bundle of emergency meds and supplies. The last thing you should have to do when an attack hits is dig through your bag or purse in desperation. I have one that holds my fingertip pulse oximeter, and emergency meds including my epipens. These things wear out, and cheerful new ones are always welcome gifts.
Beautiful pillows, throws and blankets. How much time do you spend on the couch? Maybe best not to dwell on that, but the point is you’ll probably get a massive amount of use and appreciation of quality pillows and blankets you love. Indulge in soft luxurious materials of your choice. Machine washable is probably best for obvious reasons. Bright and cheerful or soothing calming colors. Whatever makes you happy. (If it’s a gift, make sure it’s a material the person isn’t sensitive to.)
As un-fun as many of these are, I find that the general public is very kind, understanding, and ready to offer their help. At first you might feel a little exposed in visually affirming your limitations and disability. Your identity might feel a little shaken, but hopefully you should next find that it’s a relief. A relief from the physical burdens of course, but also a relief that others (although they may be curious) accept you and and even many strangers are eager to help.
A folding wheelchair. Much more affordable than I thought! Got one from Invacare for $160 on Amazon a couple years ago. This can be a difficult one to buy, let alone accept. It can feel like accepting defeat and confronting loss. I’ve been re-framing it in my mind as a tool that can help above all else. Walk it around a venue you go to, and be wheeled as desired. I used it to get into a convention recently where there was too much walking than I felt comfortable with, so I wheeled in, parked the chair and got up to walk around inside. I thought it was a fantastic compromise. Even on my better days I usually keep this one folded up in the trunk of my little car. It’s peace of mind knowing that if I start to feel terrible, someone can go get it and easily wheel me out. Note: Airport and many hotels have wheelchairs available by request.
A folding camping chair or stool. There are some very compact and lightweight options out there like REI’s trail stool, or a unipod seat, about a pound and collapsible. I happened on a simple one for free at AAA. Great for waiting in line at a concert or an event when you don’t feel like you need a wheelchair.
A cane with stool. A POTsie was explaining to me how much this helps when she needs to wait in line somewhere. Check out the many options on Amazon.
Car window tinting. Get ceramic window tinting on your car. It keeps your car cooler and with heavier tints you get less strain on those dilated pupils. Darker tints may need a medical waiver depending on your state’s laws. This was one of the best things I’ve bought. Now even in 100 degree weather, my little Mazda can keep me cool. Before the ceramic tinting, this was not possible.
Vitamix. Or another quality blender. This has massively improved my diet (and my hubsie’s). It was tough to drop the money, but we got a refurbished one and considered the large boost in nutrition we’d get pretty priceless. This thing is essentially being used every day, and makes the little food processor I was using before look like child’s play. Smoothies the way they are meant to be- creamy smooth. I put chard or kale in every smoothie I make and mix up the other fruits and veggies I drop in, and somehow they’re delicious. They are easy to consume, easy on my stomach and healthy… who am I? I must sound like a Californian cliche. The reality is that my body can use all the nutrition it can get, and this blender is delivering.
Remote thermostat. Regulate your temperature exactly where you are in your home, just take this little thermostat wherever you go. I got a Honeywell Portable Comfort Control. A prerequisite for this portable remote thermostat is a particular digital thermostat (kind of like the main hub and brain of your HVAC). So we had to also upgrade our main thermostat, so I installed a Honeywell VisionPro. A benefit of the main thermostat upgrade is the ability to connect it to Wi-Fi, so you can precool or preheat your place before you get home using a smartphone app.
Reverse osmosis water purification system! These were way more affordable than I had initially assumed, and I wish I had gotten one much sooner. Depending on your water district and your local pipes, your water might contain elements and chemicals including chromium 6, arsenic, barium, copper and lead. Reverse osmosis is one of the best ways to remove these chemicals, and no Brita and PUR water filters won’t do the job. I really love APEC’s ESSENCE ROES-50, which costs about $200. If you’re not ready for this investment, get one or two 5-gallon BPA-free jugs with a bottom spout to fill up at your local water store or station (like Glacier).
A healthier mattress. If you have memory foam anything including pillows, mattresses and toppers, get rid of them and replace with low/no VOC healthy materials. Even the healthier, certified foams still outgas fumes. I love my upgrade to a Berkeley Ergonomics mattress, but if you’re severely allergic to latex and wool, Shifman and McRoskey have quality options. I write about my mattress saga so you don’t have to have one: The Hunt for a Healthier Mattress.
More gifts for people with chronic illness:
Cooking and/or groceries. Most cooking and food prep involves plenty of standing and uses up a lot of precious energy. Find out what they can eat, pick up some groceries and make them some meals for the week. Frozen pre-made meals are the best, since they stay fresher (especially for someone trying to have a low histamine diet).
Clean up session. Tidying up the house, washing and gassing up the car, doing the laundry, etc. These things seem simple and mundane, but they can be a huge burden on a sick person, especially when they’re in a flare.
Amazon gift cards. (Plus an Amazon Prime subscription if they don’t have one.) Having Amazon deliver household staples, random sundries, clothes, and nearly anything with free 1-2 day shipping is like having a personal delivery service. This is amazing to have when I can’t make it out to a real store. Besides necessities, a good treat is being able to catch a newly released movie from my couch.
Gift card to their local pharmacy. Medicine costs add up, even with decent copays. Most of us are on a hefty list of prescriptions. Last year my $15 copays easily added up to over $100 a month… and that’s with great health insurance. Having a little extra money for these necessities can be immensely helpful for someone who isn’t financially secure.
At-home massage. If someone is sensitive to smells and has a hard time getting out, this can be a dream come true. Let the masseuse know not to bring pungent oils or fragrances, and instead use another option like coconut oil or whatever’s safe. They bring the table, the music and their skills. Set up inside your home, in your yard, wherever you’d like!
In-home lessons. Have you always wanted to learn an instrument, try a new art form, learn a new skill? There’s plenty to learn on the internet, but it can be more effective and a nice change of pace for your mental health to interact with a teacher. You can hire people to come to you for lessons in all sorts of things like piano, guitar, ukulele, photography, drawing, painting (oils, pastels, watercolors, acrylics, gouache), scratchboard, origami, needle arts like embroidery, sewing (quilting, clothing), knitting, crochet, sculpting. If you’re feeling ambitious you can tackle things like learning a language, computer programming, using digital art & music software, being tutored in a topic of your choice like biology for a deeper understanding of health issues. If you’re trying to gift lessons, help by prescreening some potential hires. Finding a good fit can be a chore!
Video Games. Hear me out… this highly depends on the person. I’m not a gamer, but I’ve enjoyed some Wii games like most. My brother, who is a real gamer, brought me a huge selection of video games. It’s never something I would’ve gotten into myself, and some of the games I really loved! I do believe there are games out there for everyone. Video games are a great escape when my body is limp and aching. It’s more engaging than zoning out watching Netflix, but much easier than trying to read a good book. Sometimes it can be difficult to zone out, so something that is more distracting and engaging is a big win.
Photo book or memento. One of the best gifts I ever got was from a best friend who made me a small and intricate scrapbook with photos from some of our best times and trips together. I treasure my photo books from my past. Sure sometimes it’s bittersweet, but mostly I’m happy to be able to reminisce and know I’ve had some great times in my life. It hasn’t all been terrible. I’ve also had some great happy moments during my chronic illness. Last year I was able to achieve my dream of visiting Portland. It was better than I could’ve imagine, and afterwards I made a very thorough Mixbook. This more than any album gives me hope that I’ll be able to feel that good again. It’s hope.
A donation! Another absolute favorite gift of mine is when family and friends donate to causes that are supporting essential research to my condition. In my case, that’s Dysautonomia International. If your loved one has POTS, consider a donation to Dysautonomia International of any size.
Don’t forget to shop with Amazon Smile!
Rack up donations for Dysautonomia International while you shop and get friends and family using it too! A small percentage of your order goes to the charitable organization of your choice at no extra cost.
Tips! Yeah, it can be tricky to shop for us…
Know if they have any fabric preferences. Some fabrics might now be really uncomfortable for your friend, thanks to all the random sensitivities these conditions can create.
Skip fragranced products and soaps. Synthetic fragrances aren’t great for anyone, but even natural ones can be a trigger for someone with mast cell issues. Know specifically what they tolerate and like, otherwise just skip it.
Be picky with jewelry. If you’re looking at jewelry for someone, again know what they like and tolerate. I’m not into wearing heavy jewelry anymore, because I find it tiring and burdensome. I’m also much more sensitive to nickel now, so cheap rings and earrings irritate my skin and make me itch and swell. Maybe they can do a cotton friendship bracelet, and a simple charm they can put on their favorite chain.
Do you have another great gift or gear idea? Please share!