We usually associate the winter holiday season with joyful times spent celebrating with family and friends. However, the holidays can leave some older adults feeling depressed. If you’re caring about a loved one this time of year, it’s wise to watch for depression’s symptoms.
Approximately 6 million people age sixty-five or over suffer from depression. Failing health, loneliness, and the death of someone close—issues which commonly affect aging adults—can leave anyone feeling sad around the holidays. As a caregiver, understanding seasonal depression can help you create a happier holiday for your loved-ones.
Signs of Depression
Many adults experience holiday blues, but those feelings are usually temporary. However, left unnoticed or untreated, holiday depression can become a serious condition.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Unexplained changes in appetite or weight
- Excessive sleeping or extreme fatigue
- Anti-social behavior
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
If you recognize one or more of those symptoms in your loved one, consult a physician right away. Dealing with depression early makes it less likely that a bout with holiday sadness will lead to something more serious.
Tips for Curbing Holiday Depression
“As we age, it’s not uncommon to lose our holiday traditions,” says Janel Smith, Life Enrichment Mentor at Sunset Village. “Burying a spouse or leaving behind a beloved home are always difficult. And those life-changing events often leave us longing for the way things used to be.”
That’s why we work hard at Sunset to keep seasonal traditions alive. Whether it’s preparing someone’s favorite holiday meal, or helping residents decorate with treasured ornaments, our caregivers strive to help make current holidays feel like past ones.
How can you help loved ones experience their holiday traditions and avoid sadness? Sometimes it’s as easy as sharing the workload. Aging can make it physically difficult to partake in favorite activities, such as hanging lights or baking holiday treats. Your help could make the difference in whether or not your parent puts up a Christmas Tree or enjoys the smell of pies in the oven.
“It doesn’t matter whether your mom frosts the cutout cookies or supervises you doing it, it’s that you’ve engaged her in the activity,” explains Miriam Wagoner, Life Enrichment Mentor at Sunset House. “And you’re creating a new holiday tradition in the process.”
Another way Sunset works to keep depression at bay is by encouraging socialization. Our communities offer various group activities throughout the holidays to keep residents mixing and mingling with each other. Furthermore, our staff members interact with our residents to get them talking about their holiday memories and other feelings.
“Getting together with family and friends is an important tradition to keep alive,” says Miriam. “While there’s no denying family gatherings can be stressful—especially during the holidays—they go a long way toward keeping our elders feeling involved.”
Seasonal depression is not uncommon among older adults. By staying alert to the symptoms and keeping your loved ones engaged, you can help keep depression from lingering into the new year.