For many, the holiday season is full of cheer and memorable experiences. However, for others, the holiday season can bring stress and anxiety due to financial and social obligations, or the memories from years gone by.
Many seniors are adversely affected by the rituals of the holiday season. It may be something as simple as a holiday song, movie and or a familiar ornament that triggers a memory of a loved one lost, old friends, or even the loss of independence. All of this can contribute to feelings of sadness, mourning and eventually depression.
It is important that the signs of the “holiday blues” are identified and dealt with before they progress to depression. Changes in personality such as loss of interest in activities and people; decreased energy, fatigue, and irritability; and increased aches and pains (emotional distress is often felt physically in older adults) may be warning signs.
We must remember that in many cases, the holiday season is not the only potential cause for depression. There can be preexisting physical, medical and mental factors which contribute to the apparent holiday blues, and seasonal festivities make things worse. If this is the case and you feel that professional intervention is necessary, a visit to a primary physician is recommended in order to clearly identify a diagnosis and begin treatment.
Regardless of your role in a senior’s life, you have the opportunity to make a difference in keeping “happy” in their holidays with the following suggestions:
- Send holiday cards to senior friends early in the season so they feel valued before all the festivities begin.
- Place your elderly friend or family member on a phone call schedule (say once a week) to engage them and assess for depression or any other issues that may need attention.
- Make an effort to talk about your holiday activities and then follow up with post event stories. Now with Facebook and smart phones, you can share pictures as well, but don’t forget the value of a phone call for this generation.
- Be an effective listener. Sometimes, just having someone to listen provides a great escape from the routine of sitting home alone.
- Include senior friends in suitable activities, but give serious consideration to their energy level. Even small activities, such as baking cookies or wrapping presents will provide a sense of belonging.
- Finally, be sure to remind the senior in your life to take their medication as prescribed and to attend all scheduled doctor’s appointments during the busy holiday season.
If you are a professional caregiver, friend, family member or neighbor of an elderly person, you are in a position to help keep the holiday blues at bay. The most important gift that you can give during this often frantic season is your time and consideration, as at any other time of the year.
Carlos Santos is on the team at ElderCaring home care services. (760) 333.0427
Source: “Beating the holiday blues: Depression and the older adult”. New Jersey Jewish News. Dagger, L. A., (Dec. 2009), http://njjewishnews.com/article/550/beating-the-holiday-blues-depression-and-the-older-adult#.Ul2JAlDrzuO