Although this season is typically viewed as the season of joy, for many older adults, holiday depression is an all too real experience, making the holidays a time of deep despair. Yearning for holidays past, grief over the loss of family and friends, and difficult changes to health can intensify through the holiday season, and it’s essential to take the appropriate steps to help older loved ones avoid the emergence of holiday depression in seniors.
Start with asking yourself these three questions if you suspect a senior you love may be experiencing holiday depression.
Could it be normal nostalgia? Wistful feelings of nostalgia, recalling pre-pandemic holiday get-togethers and celebrations, are normal for all of us. Determine if the senior’s sadness is lifted after a journey down memory lane, or if it remains no matter the topic of conversation.
Is health impacted? If your family member is struggling to sustain a healthy eating plan, has issues staying or falling asleep during the night, is losing weight, and/or feeling tired, these could all be indications of holiday depression in seniors.
Is the senior disengaged? Look for a lack of interest in formerly-enjoyed hobbies, diminished motivation, difficulty with focus and concentration, and/or the inability to sit still without fidgeting, as these can also be typical in depression.
Lara Honos-Webb, clinical psychologist and author of “Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life,” compares the difference between sadness and depression to colors. “A person is blue if they have deep, colorful emotions in response to loss in life. Depression is more like the color black – there [are] no subtle colors to the emotion but stark pain.”
It’s crucial to seek medical help if depression is suspected – and even if you are not sure – as effective treatment is readily available and essential, and early detection is key. And there are particular steps members of the family may take to support a loved one with depression:
Create a list of the older adult's hobbies and interests, and set a schedule to engage in one or more of them together.
Encourage the senior to work out along with you, including getting outside for walks to enjoy nature.
Turn on some of the older adult's favorite music, or if the senior plays a musical instrument, request that he or she play some songs for you.
Continue being positive yourself, providing affirmations to remind your senior parent of your love as well as the numerous small but wonderful aspects each new day brings.
Most important of all, just be there, regardless of the older adult's mood. At times, just sitting together quietly can make an enormous amount of difference in how someone feels.