Coping with the Holiday Season The Holiday Season is the single most beloved time of the year, one that most people look forward to with eager anticipation and excitement. It is a time of celebration, gift-giving, feasting, family gatherings, and good cheer. However, this may not be the case for the elderly among us. Researchers have discovered, depression among the elderly increases significantly during the Holiday Season.
There may be several reasons the Holiday Season is not a joyful, celebratory time for the elderly. Some seniors may be living alone and unable to get together with family and friends. Those who have lost a spouse may be especially overcome by loneliness and depression as memories of past Holiday Seasons may come back to them. Seniors who suffer from mobility issues or other major health problems may also find themselves unable to participate in the festivities. Then those, who can get together with family and friends might feel anxious about the financial costs connected to the Holiday Season, and expectations associated with gift-giving. Those who are living in care homes or assisted living facilities may miss the unique Holiday traditions they once enjoyed with their families. Cognitively impaired may be more confused as others get into the Holiday spirit.
Seniors who are struggling with depression, sadness, confusion, or anxiety at the approaching Holiday Season may not speak openly about their feelings of discomfort or dread. We, as caregivers and family members have the responsibility to be attentive as the Holiday Season approaches and watch out for signs of mental distress. Here are some things to pay attention to: (1) disruption in sleep patterns; (2) lack of desire to communicate or socialize; (3) changes in appetite and eating habits; (4) increased irritability; (5) difficulty concentrating and/or participating in activities (6) a general sense of apathy, even towards things that once brought pleasure and joy.
The first step in dealing with the “Holiday Blues” is to get the elderly person to talk about his or her feelings openly, create activities to reminisce and to explore the source of these feelings. The elderly person may not be consciously aware of why he or she is feeling sad, anxious or depressed. Nevertheless, by talking out loud it may give caregivers and family members a clue as to what they can do to address the cause. For example, if the cause is anxiety over the expectations and costs associated with gift-giving, caregivers and family members can suggest alternatives to expensive gifts, such as personalized homemade gifts. This solution not only provides the elderly person with something creative to do, but also gives him or her the opportunity to give gifts that are meaningful and in keeping with the actual spirit of the season.
A positive way to approach pleasurable memories of past Holiday Seasons is to direct attention away from what is different in the present, new additions in the family like a new grandchild or a forthcoming wedding or any forthcoming event. Establish new traditions that are suited to present conditions, traditions that can be worthy replacements like replicating the family’s favorite dessert or activity that Grandma or Grandpa made or did during the Holidays.
As we approach this Holiday Season, let us keep the elderly among us in mind and do everything we can to make the season stress-free and enjoyable for them.
Veena J. Alfred, PhD., Certified Dementia Practitioner