Most of us see the holidays as such a happy time of year. From childhood, we have associated December with Santa, gifts, family, and magical feelings. As adults, we view the holiday season through the eyes of our own children, reveling in their joy as they experience traditions anew. For many seniors, however, depression rears its ugly head with even more prominence at the holidays. How can you help your senior loved one maintain positive holiday mental health?
Holiday Mental Health in Seniors
Why do seniors struggle with mental health at the holidays? For so many, this time of year reminds us of growing up and our younger years. While those happy memories provoke nostalgia, they also have the potential to remind someone of what they no longer have. Perhaps a spouse or other loved one has passed away. Maybe the senior's health has declined and he or she can no longer participate in some favorite traditions. Whatever the reason, having "holiday blues" is not uncommon, and we must be aware to prevent it from becoming more serious depression. Here are some common symptoms of more severe depression in older adults:
- Feeling persistently sad
- Worrying excessively about health and finances
- Being frequently tearful
- Feeling helpless/worthless
- Changes in weight
- Pacing and/or fidgeting
- Sleeping difficulties
- Unable to concentrate
- Social withdrawal
If you notice these symptoms and have concerns about your senior loved one's mental health, please contact a healthcare provider or mental health professional.
Preventing Holiday Blues
How do loved ones help a senior with the holiday blues, particularly from a distance? Health in Aging has some ideas, which we've included below along with some of our own tips.
It may seem obvious, but everyone wants to feel included. Even if you think you know the answer ahead of time, invite them to gatherings and holiday outings. If you live too far away for frequent visits, video chats and gatherings can help close that distance. We have some great virtual party ideas you can use!
If possible, help your senior loved one decorate for the holidays. Even a room at a care facility can feel more cheerful and help with holiday mental health with some festive decorations! Again, if you live too far away to help yourself, finding a companion (like from SHS!) to help decorate, run errands, or provide transportation to activities can help ease your senior's load.
Ask your senior about favorite holiday memories, and then really listen. While you may be afraid of making the senior sad remembering the past, talking can be very therapeutic. Few things show you care like listening to someone and showing how important their memories are to you.
There are so many ways for anyone to volunteer during the holidays, even for seniors! You can volunteer together or encourage your senior loved one to find a way to give back. Many locales have a volunteer guide that offers something for everyone, including ways to volunteer from home.
If you have traditions or ideas to help keep the holiday blues at bay, we'd love to hear about them! Additionally, we can help at this time of the year with tasks around the home, gift wrapping, transportation, and companionship. Feel free to reach out for more info!