As some of us are aware through personal experience, holidays aren’t always the happiest of times. With its emphasis on celebration and joyful gatherings, the Christmas holiday season can pose special challenges – particularly for people who already feel lonely or isolated. Seniors and elderly folks struggling with mobility or health issues can certainly fall into this category; maybe you have one you’re concerned about. For people already feeling cut off and alone, the emphasis on celebration and joyful gatherings can cause stress, anxiety, and even deepen into depression.
And while the holiday blues might end up being situational and temporary, it’s important to know what to look for to prevent a more serious situation from taking hold. Warning signs in seniors generally align with those associated with conventional depression, and include:
- Lack of interest in customary activities, like their favorite TV show or daily crossword
- Loss of energy
- Low appetite or drastic change in eating habits
- Lack of sleep, or excessive sleeping
- Changes in personal hygiene or appearance
So what can you do to prevent seasonal sadness from taking hold? Here are some ideas to help mom or dad stay feeling positive over the holidays:
- Stay connected: Check in with Dad every day or two. If you can’t make it there in person, connect through phone or Face Time, and don’t be shy about asking a neighbor or church community member to stop in for a wellness check.
- Listen and share: Holidays can bring up surges of memories and nostalgia. Give Mom the chance to talk about memories, even if they’re difficult; while it’s not the most helpful to dwell on sad feelings, it eases the burden to acknowledge them and move forward. Reminisce over happy memories with photo albums; turn on some favorite holiday tunes.
- Bring the holidays in: So much of what we find comforting at holiday time has to do with our senses! Hang a wreath on Dad’s door to bring him that holiday pine fragrance; bake him a batch of his favorite cookies. Make some hot mulled cider in his kitchen while you watch a favorite holiday movie – the aroma alone is worth the hour or so it takes to brew up!
- Plan a simple outing: Weather permitting, get Mom outside for a walk in the sun – maybe to a local park or town square, where there are holiday decorations. Check the local church schedule – there are often free caroling services on holiday weekends that are uplifting, and easy to navigate (plenty of seating and parking). And a drive around neighborhoods to check out the Christmas lights is always a big hit!
- Keep Dad eating healthy: Sugary holiday foods aren’t the best when it comes to mood regulation; offset the “junk” and prevent irritability with Vitamin D rich foods like salmon, eggs, and fortified cereals. Make sure Dad’s house is stocked with nutrient-rich foods that are easy to prepare, along with protein-rich snacks like hard-boiled eggs, tuna, and yogurt. If food prep is an issue, look into supplementary meal delivery programs like Silver Cuisine or Magic Kitchen.
For more great ideas on how to beat the holiday blues, head to Aging Care.