A couple of months ago, I visited the hospital gift shop downstairs from the rehab unit where my mom recovered from a stroke. As I browsed the aisles of stuffed animals, balloons, flowers, candy, and jewelry, most items seemed likely to satisfy the gift giver more than the patient. 

For instance, there was an abundance of candy and flowers, which don’t always make the best gifts. What if the patient has allergies, and flowers set off a sneezing fit? Or maybe the person has diabetes and shouldn’t eat sweets. 

What if people gave gifts that the patient might really want or need?

Or maybe this is your second or third visit and you’ve already brought all the usual presents.

What if people gave gifts that the patient might really want or need? There are lots of gifts to give someone in the hospital that don’t need to be watered, consumed, or set aside for later use. 

Are you ready to stop running with the herd through hospital gift shops and give a gift that will knock your favorite hospital patient’s no-skid socks off?

Here are 22 ideas to help you recover from bringing lame hospital gifts to a sick friend or relative.

1. Giftgowns 

We all loathe those hideous, easy-access hospital gowns. Why not give a fun gown with snaps in all the right places from Giftgowns, a company founded by designer Jackie Moss after her own hospital stay? You can even create your own hospital gown design with the patient’s personality in mind.

2. Scalp massager

Turn a hospital patient’s boredom to tingly bliss while relieving stress with a head massage tool you can buy on Amazon or at home and bath retail stores.

3. Sleep mask and earplugs

A French study of critically ill hospital patients found that those who wore earplugs all night experienced deeper, more restorative sleep with fewer interruptions. Giving earplugs and a sleep mask can help someone get a good night’s (or day’s) sleep in a noisy, bright hospital.

4. No-tie shoe system

If someone has a broken hand or other condition that prevents them from tying their shoes, a no-tie shoelace system can turn any shoe, sneaker or boot into a slip-on. People with shoes that accommodate foot issues such as plantar fasciitis will appreciate this gift, too.

5. Snacks

Non-perishable, individually packaged snacks or a basket of your loved one’s favorite treats can be a welcome pick-me-up during the hospital stay. Make sure to double-check with doctors or nurses that a specific food is allowed in a patient’s specific condition.

6. The gift of “grab”

Give post-surgical patients or those who can’t twist or turn a grabber reacher tool for snaring out-of-reach items or stuff dropped on the floor. 

7. Streaming subscriptions 

When Rick Ham of Irvine, California, spent three weeks in the hospital, “streaming services kept me sane,” he says. Buy someone a subscription to a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu if they don’t already have one to help them pass time on their tablet or phone.

8. Mobile iPad/tablet stand

Ham used a mobile iPad/tablet stand to hold his iPad while he streamed shows. “I couldn’t hold my iPad all day long,” says Ham. “I was immobilized, so this was easy to push and pull out of my way.”

9. Technology accessories

If allowed in the hospital, accessories like headphones or chargers can enhance your loved one’s tech experience and make communication easier.

10. Brain-stimulating games and books

When Dane Kolbaba of Phoenix, Arizona, spent a week in the hospital with a broken leg, his favorite gift was a crossword puzzle book. “It helped keep my mind sharp, quietly pass time and kill my boredom,” says Kolbaba. Other good choices include sudoku, word searches, logic games and brain teasers.

11. Guided meditation recordings

How about guided imagery focused on wellness? A 2018 study found that mind-body practices help patients feel more relaxed and can lower blood pressure. In another study, pain levels dropped significantly in subjects who participated in a single, 15-minute session of mindfulness training focused on changing pain sensations with imagery and hypnotic suggestion.

12. Calming sound machine

Help someone sleep soundly despite nurses chatting, clattering carts and TV noises from other rooms with a white noise machine or one that plays soothing nature sounds.

13. Moisturizer and lip balm

Hospital air is dry, so lip balm for chapped lips and luxurious hand and body lotions are always welcome gifts. Keep in mind that people with sensitive skin or allergies may require a fragrance-free moisturizer. You can also put together a care package with items like lip balm, lotion, hand sanitizer, tissues, and other personal care items to help a person staying in a hospital feel refreshed and cared for.

14. Gift cards for Audible, Google Play, music downloads

Let your hospitalized friend sign up online for his or her own entertainment with gift cards that offer a variety of media services such as audiobooks, music, and games.

15. Back scratcher

Not everybody in the hospital can maneuver to reach every itch. An inexpensive back scratcher may be just the remedy for an itchy friend with a bad back or broken bones. 

16. Familiar objects from home

Offer to bring comforting items from the person’s home. What about a pillow from the patient’s own bed or a snuggly blanket? Other ideas include a favorite mug, slippers, underwear, bathrobe, socks, and other articles of clothing. Such items can provide comfort and warmth during the entire hospital stay.

17. Comforting scents

A small aromatherapy diffuser with essential oils or scented candles can help create a relaxing and comforting atmosphere in a hospital room.

18. A good cup of coffee

A true coffee drinker stuck in the hospital is probably craving a cup of “real” coffee. If the person’s diet allows, visit in the morning with a fresh cup of the good stuff from a nearby coffee shop or barista-staffed hospital kiosk. 

19. Games to play together

No, not the mind games played by dysfunctional family members. Board games like Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly and Pictionary provide mental stimulation, prevent boredom and ease the awkwardness of hospital room conversation.

20. Personalized items

Consider a personalized gift such as a photo album filled with cherished memories, a journal, or a custom-made item that reflects your loved one’s interests or hobbies.

21. Take care of household chores and errands

No bouquet of flowers compares with mowing a friend’s grass or running errands that need attention while he or she is in the hospital. Offer to pet sit the dog. Retrieve the mail. Clean the house. 

22. Show up

“Never underestimate the value of calls and in-person visits,” says Lucía García-Giurgiu, a holistic psychotherapist and mental well-being life coach in New York City. “Because patients often increase focus on their physical illness and most interactions with hospital staff become functional, connecting with friends and loved ones can be extremely therapeutic.”

This is an update by Hella Staff to an article previously published in October 2019 written by Deb Hipp.