Most people look forward to the holidays with joyful anticipation. Holidays often represent happy times spent with family and friends, honoring cherished traditions, attending parties and spreading holiday cheer. Some of the warmest, most favored memories are born during this time of year.
For seniors, however, holidays may elevate feelings of nostalgia and melancholy that can lead to the holiday blues. The holiday blues mimic signs of depression, but are more prevalent during the months of November, December and January.
Seniors are especially prone to feeling isolated and depressed during these months for a variety of reasons – from health and money issues to the loss of a spouse or other loved one, or often, just a simple sense of growing old. Traveling during the holidays may be difficult for seniors and they may be left alone while other family members gather to celebrate the season, increasing the feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The American Geriatrics Society offers a great list of activities to help cope with the holiday blues. Seniors are encouraged to volunteer at a local charitable organization, attend parties and have family and friends visit throughout the season. Limiting the use of alcohol is crucial, as alcohol tends to increase feelings of depression. Talking to family, friends and health care providers about feelings can alleviate sadness and help determine if the symptoms of depression should be treated medically.
Friends and family can help seniors beat the holiday blues by dropping by for a visit over a cup of coffee and inviting seniors to participate in other activities to keep them busy and provide a sense of purpose. Comfort Keepers®, experts in providing in-home care for seniors, offers suggestions to help families and caregivers make the holidays happy and memorable for the seniors in their lives.
- Playing a favorite game together or spending time cooking a special meal can chase the blues away.
- Offering to lend a hand addressing holiday cards to friends and family is a great way to help the senior feel connected to those who live far away.
- Going caroling, attending a holiday musical, or simply listening to holiday tunes helps to lift spirits.
- Baking holiday treats together can be as much fun as eating them afterward.
- Driving through the neighborhood after dark to see the lights is always entertaining and a great way to promote holiday cheer.
- Sharing past memories helps seniors feel loved, and shows that you have an interest in who they are.
- Strolling around the neighborhood is a good way to keep the blues away if seniors are able and weather permits.
It is important to note that the holiday blues usually fade after a short period of time. Depression, on the other hand, lasts longer and is more serious. Families and friends who are able to gather with senior loved ones over the holidays should watch closely for behaviors that suggest something more serious may be happening.
Signs of depression include sadness that does not go away, crying often, loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable, restlessness or feeling fatigued, feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide. If true depression seems to be present, take the time to talk about it honestly with your loved one. Depression is treatable, but it is important to discuss all options with one’s health care provider.
Although the holiday season can cause the holiday blues, it also provides many opportunities to battle the blues as well. Try participating in a few of the mentioned holiday activities with your senior loved one in order to keep these feelings at a minimum. Special time spent together is a gift in itself that will enhance the holiday spirit, and inspire feelings of peace and happiness for all.