Many people look forward to the holiday season. It’s an opportunity to engage in traditions and spend quality time with family and friends. However, for the elderly, the holidays can trigger memories of people and times passed. This can bring feelings of uncertainty, sadness and isolation. It’s very common for these factors to result in holiday depression, or the holiday blues.
Research indicates that about two million seniors suffer from depression, and although studies don’t show a direct correlation in the holidays and depression, there’s no doubting that holidays present unique challenges.
But, it’s not the holiday alone that causes the blues. It’s the time of year, because it serves as a reminder of both happier times and sad times–like the loss of loved ones, independence, financial stability, etc. This is also compounded by the fact that many seniors suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a type of depression related to changes in season occurring mostly in fall and winter.
There are a number of factors that can lead to holiday blues and seasonal sadness:
- loss of loved one
- declining health
- distance from family
- moving from home to assisted living
- changes in routine
- loneliness and social isolation
- financial problems
- drops in serotonin and melatonin levels (oftentimes associated with SAD)
So what can we do to support older loved ones this upcoming holiday season? Here are some tips to help them stay happy, comfortable and involved…
Participate in activities together. Anything from church festivities to volunteering, decorating to baking. These activities bring seniors a stronger sense of purpose, and it’s also a special time to connect.
Crafting and gift making. Whether it’s a holiday wreath or handmade gifts for family and friends, this is a great way to introduce a new activity that could possibly turn into a hobby.
Planning holiday gatherings. Give them control of something as simple as what time dinner starts or what holiday music you’ll play. Allowing older loved ones to make decisions gives them a specific role and helps them feel included.
Tell stories and share memories. Storytelling is a favorite pastime for many seniors. Share part of a favorite book or flip through photo albums. Listen carefully as they describe their feelings. This provides a great opportunity to make new memories while reliving old ones.