Mental Health During the Holidays for the Elderly

The holidays can be a challenging season for older individuals who feel alone and may be missing their own parents, siblings or friends who are either no longer living or do not live nearby anymore.  It is important for caregivers to be able to recognize the difference between the holiday blues and depression and to be intentional about scheduling time with their older loved ones.

First, depression is not a normal progression of aging.  Elderly people can certainly experience periods of feeling down or sad like the rest of us, but should not display continuous depression.  Signs to watch for include on-going sadness, recurring tears, significant weight changes and differences in sleep patterns, either lack of sleep or constant sleep.  If you see your elderly loved one displaying any of these signs or symptoms on an on-going basis, you should contact his or her medical provider.

Next, we all occasionally get the blues and when we do usually some sort of activity or interaction with others will help pull us out of our unhappiness.  Planning a holiday outing, craft or decorating opportunity can help your loved one feel wanted and appreciated during the holiday season.  If nothing else, simply spending time with older people and allowing them the chance to talk and truly be heard can be uplifting.  You might encourage him or her to reminisce about holidays or traditions as a child.  Or, ask about the early days of his or her family as an adult and the new traditions started within the family.

Remember that financial resources can be limited for older individuals, so do not put pressure on them to buy gifts.  Always consider providing transportation for them to any gatherings and consider in advance eyesight or hearing difficulties to minimize your loved one’s discomfort or self-consciousness.  Growing old is not easy.  We want to help our loved ones as much as we can to make their holiday season as festive as possible.

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