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Seniors and the Holiday Blues

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time of year, but for some seniors grappling with loss, health problems or certain fears, the holidays can be a difficult time.

If you or someone you love is experiencing holiday depression, here are some signs to look for, what caregivers can do and ways family members and friends you can help.

Why Holiday Depression Occurs in Seniors

Seniors may be depressed during the holidays for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that they may be dealing with a chronic health condition, like diabetes, heart disease or dementia, that makes the holidays less enjoyable. They also may be so concerned with their prognosis that the focus is on their mortality rather than enjoying time with family and friends. A sense of loneliness and isolation or ongoing depression also may affect an elderly loved one’s mood during this time of year, as well as the loss of a beloved pet, close friend or family member.

Most of these situations aren’t unique to seniors. Young people, the middle-aged and everyone in between can experience holiday depression for the reasons I’ve previously outlined. However, as caregivers and family members, it’s important that we pay attention to when a loved one is not feeling well emotionally and do everything to help them or direct them to resources that can.

The Signs of Holiday Depression

The signs of holiday depression include:

  • Ongoing, unexplained sadness
  • Withdrawal or loss of interest in social activities, friends and family members
  • Frequent crying
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Memory or concentration issues
  • Fatigue, lack of motivation or energy
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Increased anxiety

Ways You Can Help

If your loved one is experiencing holiday depression, there are several things you can do to help and several ways they can begin to cope and enjoy the holidays again:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can boost feel-good hormones. It also helps seniors get out of the house and maintain social connections. Try going for a brisk walk, water aerobics or taking a class at your local senior center to increase your energy levels.
  • Give Back: Volunteer in your community, whether it’s at your local church, community center or charitable organization. Around this time of year, a lot of organizations need help with toy or clothing drives or serving meals to those in need.
  • Maintain Social Connections: Focus on the activities and traditions you enjoy during this time of year. If a close relative or friend is hosting a party, make a commitment to go for at least an hour. Family members and friends can facilitate this by offering transportation to and from the holiday gathering.
  • Get Out of the House: Holiday lights are one of the special occurrences during this time of year, so take your loved one for a drive to see the lights and decorations in your neighborhood or attend the holiday lights show in your community.
  • Share Your Feelings: If you feel that something is amiss this holiday season and you aren’t as excited, don’t hesitate to share your feelings with those closest to you. For caregivers and family members, it’s also important to be supportive and let your loved one know you’re always available to listen. Talking to a professional also may be necessary if these feelings extend beyond the holiday season. Over 6 million seniors experience depression and about 10 percent of them don’t ever get treated, according to statistics, so it’s important that caregivers pay attention to the signs and encourage their loved one to get help from a therapist or counselor if these symptoms persist.
  • Avoid Certain Things That Overwhelm You: The holidays are a busy time of year and sometimes we have an ever-growing to-do list that causes us to be overwhelmed, leading to more anxiety. If this is happens, narrow down your list by only focusing on the most important tasks — maybe you can scale back on holiday decorations, maybe you don’t have to cook as much this year or send cards to everyone on your list (a phone call may be enough). Family members, close friends and caregivers can help with this by offering to take care of some of these items.

Holiday depression is a reality for millions of people this time of year, especially seniors. If you notice that your loved one has become more withdrawn or sad, take steps to help them feel more connected. Plan short social outings for them, make sure they’re surrounded by loved ones in the comfort of their own home and make an effort to celebrate holiday traditions that they’ve always enjoyed. By taking all these steps, you can help your loved one experience even a small share of the joy that’s in abundance this holiday season.

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