While television ads and societal cues tell us the holidays are full of cheer, the reality is that depression rates increase this time of year. Senior citizens are especially prone to holiday blues. Whether your loved one lives alone, or in a senior living community, this season presents several depression triggers, ranging from the biological to psychological.
Decreased sunlight and shorter daylight hours can have a naturally depressive effect on the body. Combined with cabin fever, loneliness, and memories of days gone by, seniors can feel they are the only cheerless humans in a sea of holiday-crazed happy people.
The following tips can help prevent your senior client or loved one from succumbing to the holiday blues.
- Light therapy. The first step is to battle the biological triggers for depression that occur around the season and time changes. Our bodies can become depressed when deprived of natural sunlight. This condition has been given a name, Seasonal Affective Disorder, with an appropriate acronym – SAD. Light therapy has been proven to help combat SAD by triggering the same biochemical response caused by natural sunlight. A small light therapy box can sit on the table during breakfast, or while reading the paper. Just 15 to 30 minutes a day is usually sufficient. Talk to the senior’s healthcare provider before starting treatment.
- Diet and exercise. Make sure your senior client or loved one is eating well and getting enough exercise. If their exercise routine used to involve daily walks outside, start looking for indoor alternatives. Senior living communities usually offer exercise classes, dance classes, or indoor aquatic exercises. Otherwise, speak with your local senior center to inquire about other options.
- Ask and listen. The holidays can bring a mix of feelings for all of us. Many seniors hide their negative feelings because they don’t want to distress their family and friends. If you feel comfortable, ask the senior to share their feelings, sad or otherwise. Let them know you feel holiday nostalgia as well. Then patiently listen. The more you are willing to listen and support their feelings, the more comfortable they will feel opening up.
- Bring out the albums. Another way to help seniors process their feelings is to let them tell stories triggered by photos. Take an afternoon or evening to sit down and pour over old photo albums. It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend time outside of the holiday rush and learn more about your clients or relatives interesting lives. We all have stories to tell, and allowing seniors to share theirs can help them process sad or lonely feelings, while they are being kept in good company!
- Call more frequently. There is a good chance that you live far away from your aging relatives, in which case their loneliness may be more poignant. Make an effort to call more frequently, send card or flowers, or send your holiday gifts in small batches over the course of a few weeks. This can help them to feel more connected and cherished.
- Volunteer. We often think of volunteering for senior citizens. However, able-bodied senior citizens make wonderful volunteers in their own right. They have time on their hands, and there are plenty of community outlets that need help this time of year. Contact organizations like Senior Corps, homeless shelters, or local food banks where you and your senior loved one can lend a helping hand.
These tips can help seniors to remain in better spirits before, during, and after the holidays, allowing them to find the peace and joy this season is all about.