The Senior Holiday Blues
Depression is a common problem in the United States that affects up to 6 million people over age 65. Symptoms commonly associated with depression, such as sadness, loss of interest in activities, and low energy can become especially pronounced during the winter holiday season. This is true whether seniors receive in-home care, live independently, or live in a long-term care facility away from home.
How Typical Symptoms of Depression Can Look Different in the Elderly
Compared to younger people who may have depression as a stand-alone illness, older people with depression typically have at least one other co-morbidity at the same time, which can make depression symptoms more severe and last longer. Left untreated, depression in older people can increase the risk of cardiac disease, slows rehabilitation from injury or surgery, and elevates the risk of suicide.
Advanced age in itself requires a period of adjustment since it can mean the loss of critical social support due to the death, illness, or relocation of loved ones. Older people can also face a bias when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of depression because doctors expect them to slow down and may not recognize that they are experiencing signs of clinical depression rather than just aging.
Why the Holiday Season Can Be Challenging for Seniors
The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) conducted a survey about holiday loneliness in 2017 and were not surprised at the results. Nearly one in three people (31 percent) responded that they had felt lonely at some point during the holiday season, with an even greater percentage (41 percent) reporting that they worried about someone else in their lives feeling lonely. Here are some common factors that drive holiday loneliness in older people:
- Family lives far away and travel is either too expensive, too challenging with mobility issues, or both.
- Seniors may have experienced a recent significant loss, such as a spouse, and have not had time to process that holidays will look different from now on.
- Traditions change over the years, and it can be sad for some people to let go of old ones and welcome new ones.
Taking on extra work to make a loved one’s holiday brighter can seem like just one more challenge for family members who help out with dementia care and other aspects of elder care.
However, delegating tasks to prevent everything falling on one person lightens the load while making older family members happy at the same time.
Be There On the Holidays, Whether Electronically or in Person
Most people delight at the thought of getting their extended family together for Christmas, but travel distances, work schedules, family size, and even the weather don’t always permit such a gathering. An adult child of older relatives can take it upon themselves to visit in person or teach their parents how to manage a video call. The important thing is for seniors not to be alone on holidays, unless they don’t feel well and have emphatically stated they want to be alone.
Spend Time Looking through Old Family Photo Albums
With most pictures stored electronically these days, it can be an ordeal to get them sorted chronologically or by theme and get them into albums. Seniors without the mobility to undertake the project themselves should appreciate a friend or family member offering to step in and do it for them. Those who have no manual dexterity issues and just want to enjoy old memories will love having someone else there to share the laughter and tears the pictures inspire.
Stop Over to Help Decorate or Bake Holiday Treats
Local family and friends can make a senior’s day just by offering to come over to help with one of these two holiday tasks. Be sure to keep the senior’s mental or physical challenges in mind when selecting which decorations to bring and how to go about assembling them and hanging them up. Seniors will also want to share their own memories after unwrapping their own holiday decorations, so the person who goes to visit should have plenty of time to just sit and listen.
Baking a batch of Christmas cookies together can be a fun undertaking. Visitors should just be certain they know about any dietary restrictions the seniors must follow before offering to bake sweet treats together. Baking small platefuls for neighbors or other family members can be fun and will help the older person feel useful and needed.
When an in-person visit for these types of activities just isn’t possible, consider send decorations or holiday goodies by mail to increase cheer for seniors and their caregivers.
Brighten a Local Senior Citizen’s Holiday with Home Instead’s "Be a Santa to a Senior" Program
As a leading adult home care provider, Home Instead Pittsburgh, PA is proud to support the community during the holiday season. Through the Be a Santa to a Senior program, Home Instead helps identify seniors in the community to support during the holiday season. Through partnerships with local businesses and retail stores, the community can help spread holiday cheer by contributing or purchasing gifts for lonely or financially challenged seniors. There are two ways to get involved in this program:
Find a Local Gift Tree
To participate in making this a memorable holiday season for an aging adult, find the nearest local gift tree to get started. You will then be able to choose a gift for an older adult and mail or drop it off at the designated location. The appropriate team members will then redistribute the gifts to individuals in need and ensure their holiday season is bright and cheery.
Make a Donation
Another opportunity to support seniors in need in your community is in the form of a monetary donation. Donations to the Be a Santa Charity Fund maintained by Home Instead, will go towards practical items like tape, gift boxes, and additional gifts to further support this initiative.
Our senior care agency started the Be a Santa to a Senior program in 2003. Now entering its 20th holiday season, the charity program by Home Instead has given 2.1 million gifts and brightened over 750,000 senior holidays.
The holidays can be a difficult time of year for many and this is an opportunity to help make a difference in the life of an aging adult. For additional information and to help celebrate the holidays with those most deserving, visit Be a Santa to a Senior or call our office at (412) 264-4700.