What to Do When an Elderly Loved One is Depressed During the Holidays
The holiday season is upon us, and while it brings plenty of stress for many, it’s mostly an enjoyable time shared with friends and family. Yet elderly people are often less enthusiastic about the holidays and may even show signs of sadness, which caregivers and family members might notice. This could even be a sign of seasonal depression, an all too common occurrence among many aging people during the holidays.
What are the causes of depression during the holidays?
There are various reasons why an elderly loved one may start feeling depressed during the holidays. Many feel the passage of time most strongly during the festive period. Memories of past holidays and perhaps better times are evoked, while the memories of friends and loved ones that have since died often arise during this time.
The loss of a spouse, sibling, parent, or friend can feel the heaviest during the holidays. Even if the death occurred decades ago, the holiday season tends to bring back a sense of grief and loneliness from these losses – and most elderly people have lost many people over the years, only heightening the sadness at this time of the year.
Furthermore, physical health can also cause symptoms of depression during the holidays. Chronic pain is often at its worst during the winter and the holidays, especially when living in colder climates. Not only does the pain feel more noticeable, but a lack of mobility due to the weather leaves many housebound for weeks or even months, which has a massive impact on anyone’s mental and physical well-being.
Stress is another big factor of holiday depression among the elderly. We all feel the stress of the holidays and the elderly are no different. Money is tight at the best of times for many elderly people, so the added financial pressure of buying gifts, cards, and other holiday expenses can factor towards anxiety, stress, and depression.
Understandably, these feelings can lead to depression during the holidays. You may notice signs of this, but it can also go under the radar, especially with the added responsibilities many have during the holiday season.
What to do if you see signs of holiday depression
Caregivers are usually the first people to notice changes in behavior, so if you or an elderly parent’s caregiver do notice signs of depression it’s important to act now. Common signs include being generally irritable, fatigue, weight loss, sadness, grief, and showing lack of interest in things they typically enjoy.
If you see any of these, don’t hesitate to seek help. For instance, you or the caregiver can arrange a physical with their doctor to see if these signs of depression are accurate. A physical is recommended as this allows the doctor to determine the cause of the depression, whether it’s physical, mental, or a combination of each.
Remember, there is a high chance your elderly parent or relative denies there is any problem, as they may not even realize it. This is why it is so important to act quickly and decisively – the longer it goes untreated the worst it gets.
How you can help with depression during the holidays
Thankfully, there is a lot that you and your family can do to help with depression affecting an elderly loved one during the holidays. The first and most obvious way to help with seasonal depression is to be more present.
Visit them as often as popular and try to get them out of the house or care home when possible. Physical activity helps reduce depression and its symptoms, so try to organize regular outings with loved ones.
For instance, if your elderly parent is part of a local church group then take them to the next church holiday activity or event. Churches have a lot on during the holidays and are always eager for help and volunteers, making it a great way to get your parent out of the house and socializing with yourself and others.
You can also help them with their Christmas shopping. A few trips to the mall over the holidays get them out and about while also letting them soak up the festivities in a more engaging activity than sitting around at home.
There is plenty you can do at home too. Consider holiday themed activities such as making Christmas baking, writing and sending holiday cards, decorating the tree, watching festive movies, wrapping gifts – there’s an endless list of indoor activities that helps take their mind off things and enjoy the holidays.
Another great idea is to create a new holiday tradition for them to enjoy. Rather than dreading the next holiday season, this gives them something to look forward to, letting them focus on something new rather than on the past.
However, it’s important to help them in a way that isn’t too overwhelming. A lot of activity or commitments can increase stress and fatigue, so ensure there are breaks in-between the various things you have planned over the holidays.
Keeping a regular schedule helps with this. Plan your time with them for similar days each week, as sticking to a routine helps make their holiday season more manageable and less hectic.
Also, it’s worth remembering that there are medical treatments available should depression remain throughout the holidays. Antidepressants are often viewed as a last resort but they may offer the relief they need from the depression, while therapy could also be a viable form of treatment.
Regardless, you must ensure you and other people are involved – it makes all the difference!