Holidays and Depression
The holiday season is a time of joy, laughter, family gatherings, and wonderful memories, created and remembered. However, not everyone enjoys this time of year, for some it actually causes depression. For many individuals, and most especially seniors, the holidays can be especially sad and depressing. If you are a caregiver or family member of an aging loved one, you may observe a change in their mood or behavior during the holidays. You may notice unusual signs of fatigue or sadness or perhaps limited interest in the holiday season. Sometimes it is not even so much the holidays that is the problem, it is the memory of past holidays, happier times when all of the loved ones were still around that causes the depression. There is a name for the depression it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it can affect seniors in warm climate as well as cold ones.
What causes depression in the elderly?
Depression can be caused by a minor or serious medical problem; chronic pain or complications of an illness; memory loss; poor diet; loss of a spouse, close friend or companion; a move to a care facility; lack of exercise; change in routine; general frustrations with aging. Symptoms to look for include:
* Depressed or irritable mood
* Feelings of worthlessness or sadness
* Expressions of helplessness
* Loss of interest in daily activities
* Loss of appetite
* Weight loss
* Lack of attention to personal care and hygiene
* Difficulty concentrating
* Irresponsible behavior
* Obsessive thoughts about death and suicide
Depression or Dementia?
In depression there is a rapid mental decline, but memory of time, date and awareness of the environment remains. Motor skills are slow, but normal in depression. Concern with concentrating and worry about impaired memory may occur.
On the other hand, dementia symptoms reveal a slow mental decline with confusion and loss of recognizing familiar locations. Writing, speaking and motor skills are impaired and memory loss is not acknowledged as a being problem by the person suffering dementia.
How do you help your elderly loved ones through the Holiday Season?
There are many of activities you can create for your family member to help the combat the depression during this season.
- Listen and understand when they want to talk, even if the talk is negative. They are likely mourning many of the losses mentioned above. Don't imply they are whining or that they should snap out of it. They can't. Your empathy is vital here. Try to put yourself into their place.
- Remind them how important they are as a part of your own celebration and that of the entire family. Be especially careful not to act like what you do for them is a duty. This can be tough, as your tired body language can show through. However, again, put yourself in their place. They may feel useless and burdensome. Remind them they are loved.
- Holiday cards often bring bad news, and diminish in quantity. I used to sit with my mom when she opened her cards, because nine out of ten cards brought news of illness or death. She was very aware, too, of the people she didn't hear from. That was one reason I helped her write her own cards. She needed this connection with life-long friends.
- If your parent is in an assisted living facility or nursing home, check with the local kindergarten or day care centers to see if they can bring children to visit the elders. The freshness of the small children's presence can help lighten a day for an elder in physical or emotional pain.
- Contact their church and find out what they do to help support elderly congregation during the holiday season. These people undergo considerable training that provides them with tools to listen compassionately and creatively. This can go a long way toward helping with depression over the holidays.
- Decorate their home or room in stages, presenting cherished ornaments for Christmas or a menorah for Chanukah at intervals so there is something to look forward to. By the way, electric menorahs are available if your parents live in a facility where real flames can't be used.
- Bring traditional baked goods or treats regularly for your elders and their friends to share.
- Spend time with them. This is the most important thing you can do. Look at holiday photos or videos with them and leave them photos in a handy place so they can walk down memory lane when they are alone. Play music. Listen to them reminisce.
A SENIOR CONNECTION
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