The holidays can be wonderful—but also can be a very difficult time for some seniors. Approximately 6 million people over 65 are depressed. Unfortunately, few seek treatment. Chronic health issues, feelings of loneliness, and loss of loved ones can exacerbate feelings of depression and make the holidays a very difficult time for some seniors.
Following is a resource guide for the elderly, their caregivers and their family members with tips and advice on how to beat holiday depression.
The holidays can be a difficult time for older adults who may be dealing with the loss of loved ones and past traditions. While feeling ‘blue’ can be normal, depression isn’t. It is important for caretakers to be on the look out for signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, frequent tearfulness, weight changes, changes in sleep patterns, etc.
Include them in holiday activities. Caregivers can help older adults avoid holiday depression by including them in holiday activities such as decorating, making holiday crafts, taking them holiday shopping, etc.
Listen. One of the best things you, as a caretaker, can do is take time to truly listen to your older adults. Take15 minutes each day to spend just listening to them. It is important for them to be able to talk about their feelings and to know that they’re being heard.
Encourage them to talk about old memories. Often, an elderly person who has suffered the death of a spouse or moved to a senior ‘home’ may need help connecting meaning to the holidays. Encourage them to talk about their memories of past holidays. Sit with her and look through photo albums or watch family videos, And then, as mentioned above, listen carefully to the stories they tell.
Plan quiet time. The holidays are full of hustle and bustle and this can be disruptive to an elderly person. Plan some quiet time between the holiday parties and family visits so that they can recharge their batteries.
Take them for a drive to see Christmas lights. Taking seniors for a drive to see Christmas lights is a great way to get them out of the house for a bit and is the perfect outing for those with mobility issues.
FOR FAMILY MEMBERS
Assess how the senior is doing overall. Make the most of the holidays by using the time with your elderly loved one to assess how they’re faring–mobility, health, and finances. These are all problem spots that can contribute to depression when difficulties arise.
Help them with specific tasks. Holiday traditions are important and simply helping an elderly relative carry on those traditions can mean a lot to them. You might help an elderly loved one with their favorite holiday recipe, help them decorate and/or wrap presents, help them send holiday cards to their other loved ones, and so on.
Don’t ask them to “snap out of it.” If an elderly loved one seems depressed during the holidays, it isn’t productive or helpful to ask them to “snap out of it” or “get their act together.” Instead, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling.
If you can’t visit, call. You may live away from your elderly relative and aren’t able to be with them during the holidays. If so, be sure to call them frequently and encourage other family members and friends to call them. Staying busy can be a great way to beat the holiday blues.
After the holidays
Watch for ongoing signs of depression. If signs of depression continue in an elderly relative after the holidays are over, help them seek treatment.
Keep up communication. Sometimes the trouble can come after the holidays when elderly loved ones may experience loneliness or post-holiday sadness. Visit elderly loved ones frequently after the holidays. If you don’t live close by, call or send cards. Just let them know you’re thinking about them.
Follow up. If you’ve spoken to an elderly loved one about seeking care for their depression, be sure to follow up with them after the holidays. Don’t let the matter drop. Check in with them to see if they’ve sought help and ask if they need help.
For the Elderly
Remember your loved ones but make new traditions. If you’ve lost loved ones and/or won’t be able to enjoy the usual holiday traditions, try starting a new tradition, something everyone can enjoy. Be sure to find ways at the holidays to commemorate those you’ve lost.
Be aware of holiday depression triggers. This article from Health.com provides 11 great tips on how to stay positive and truly happy during the holidays. Here they are:
- Plan ahead.
- Avoid family conflict.
- Forget perfection.
- Learn to grieve.
- Schedule some sleep.
- Get help.
- Prioritize workouts.
- Consider your light exposure.
- Focus on what matters.
- Don’t binge on food and alcohol.
- Cut back on commitments.
Don’t wait for the ‘feelings’ to pass. Discuss how you’re feeling with your doctor. As the article reminds, depression is an illness and going untreated will only make things worse.
Eat healthy. As this article notes, the holidays bring with them lots of unhealthy holiday treats and beverages. Be careful not to overdo it. Understand, as the article says, that “good physical health contributes to good mental health.”
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford certain gifts. You may not be able to afford expensive gifts for family members. Don’t let this get you down. Make a budget for gifts and stick to it. Being responsible with your money will help prevent money worries later on.
Let go of past resentments. If you’re holding on to old grudges with family members or other close ones, let them go.. It suggests that holding on to these resentments can contribute to the holiday blues. Let those negative feelings go and enjoy the holidays.
Don’t give in to loneliness. The holidays can be stressful and stress can lead to or worsen depression. If part of your holiday stress comes from feeling lonely, reach out to family members or other loved ones. Participate in holiday activities.