• My mom loved getting her mail. I think the anticipation was her favorite part. When I was a child, we had early morning delivery, and on summer days, my mom would say we couldn't really start the day until the mail arrived. That, of course, was at a time when life moved at a slower pace - literally. Airmail was the quickest way to get something, and you had to get special stamps for that (and fancy, filmy envelopes).


    Fast forward several decades and you have my mom in a nursing home with severe arthritis and developing dementia. She still loved her mail delivered to her door. The problem was, if I had it delivered to her address at the nursing home, she would lose important items. I once found a vital income tax item - one that I couldn't seem to get an address change for - used as a bookmark in a magazine

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    Mom no longer had the capacity to handle important mail. I subscribed to all of her favorite magazines and brought them to her. I brought her all of my catalogs, because she liked looking through them. I, of course, brought her the little personal mail she did receive. That had dwindled, because her siblings had died and most of her friends were either dying or were no longer capable of writing. I didn't bring her the bulk of her mail because it was mostly junk or bills.


    My brother, who is very computer literate and sends photos like crazy, doesn't write letters. I visited Mom daily, so I only "sent" mail to her nursing home address when it was a gift occasion, or if I found a funny card that she'd like. My sister visited nearly every week, so she didn't send mail either.


    If Mom were alive now, I would present her with a new device, now on the market, and oh, what a difference it would have made in her life!


    The new gizmo? It's the Hewlett-Packard Printing Mailbox, from Presto.com. I tried out a loaner, and let me tell you, this is the neatest Christmas gift for an elder I can think of.


    Basically, it's a printer. The hardest part is unpacking the thing - it's double boxed, taped and padded within an inch of its life. Once unpacked - something that obviously needs to be done by a neighbor or caregiver - it's easy to set up. You use plain printer paper (a small amount is included) and they include an ink cartridge that easily pops into place. You hook it up to a phone line, but it only uses the line when it checks in for mail at predetermined times, so you don't need a separate line.


    Now you, or whoever wants to be in charge, will set up the presto.com service. It's not hard. Most of us have registered for things online and have used a credit card online, so you wouldn't find it a problem. The instructions come with the printer, but you can also get them from the Presto.com site. So, if you are setting it up for Grandma, who lives in another state, just find someone who looks after her to do the physical set-up in her home or her room, and you do the rest on-line.


    Now, the fun begins. You, your siblings, parents or friends all get email addresses. You'll know who to include. There is no spam as only approved email addresses from the Presto.com site will get through. You can subscribe to magazine articles, crossword puzzles and other goodies for the user.


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    You can choose holiday designs or other pretty backgrounds for your emails. You can send photos.


    Finally, you can do something about those fleeting thoughts you have while downloading the new digital photos of your baby. You can do something about the guilt. You think, "I should print this out and send it to Grandma. She'd love it." Then you get sidetracked and don't get around to it. Now, you will just send it. And Grandma will have the delight of receiving a full color photo of your little cherub, at whatever time you appoint the mailbox to deliver.


    There is a soothing chime that announces when mail arrives, and it also has a little blue light. However, there is nothing for Grandma to "do" to receive the mail. It just comes out of the printer at appointed times.


    If Grandma isn't able to figure out how to reload paper (it's easy, but with dementia anything mechanical can be confusing), you'd have to have a caregiver do it. You'd want to have them keep an extra ink cartridge handy, too. Again, replacing is easy, but with dementia or even a fear of gadgets, Grandma may have to have a caregiver do that. But the mail can be set to come many times a day, and that is automatic. And the printer and paper will last long enough so it's not a chore for someone else.


    If you want to send something each Wednesday noon, your sister wants to send something every other day at two o'clock, a good friend wants to send something each morning, and you may want crossword puzzles, games, "Better Homes and Gardens" or "The Wall Street Journal" to arrive each evening, then that's how you set it up from your control center on your computer. All Grandma does is receive mail.


    The cost for this is, I think, is a bargain, especially if you divide it among the family. It's $149 for the Mailbox and $9.99 a month for the service ($99.99 annually) at http://www.presto.com/. For a piece of technology, this hardware has the ability to warm a lot of hearts.


    For more information about Carol go to www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.

Published On: November 05, 2007