Depression can affect anyone, but holiday depression among seniors is very common. This doesn’t just apply to the “big” holidays. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day – even Independence Day can cause them sadness. What they all have in common is that family and/or friends usually get together to celebrate. An inability to get around severely limits many seniors’ options to partake in such joyous occasions. Festive events also often make the elderly think of those who have passed before them, which can add to their sadness.
Regardless of whether your elderly loved one lives alone, with family, or in some type of assisted living or nursing home setting, watching for signs of depression is very important. Some of the common symptoms are trouble sleeping, change in appetite, lethargy, and a lack of interest in a beloved hobby or socialization. If you do not live locally and you talk on the phone with your loved one, you may hear a change in their voice or quietness that is not “the norm.” If local friends are around more often, they might be the first to see a change in behavior, so it’s important that your loved one’s friends know how to contact you so they can advise you if they suspect there is a problem. The sooner you can contact the senior’s doctor, the better, so that they can direct the senior to resources that may help. Sometimes, an anti-depressant may be necessary to get them through the “holiday blues.”
Making seniors feel like they have a purpose and have not been abandoned and forgotten is also key. If you cannot see them in person, schedule phone calls. Engage in meaningful conversation, not just idle chit-chat. This makes them feel that they are part of your life and that you recognize that they still have relevant thoughts and opinions. If you can visit, make the time you have together memorable, and more than just a token visit to say you saw them. Visiting before the big holiday and including them in the preparations can also make them feel useful. Do things together. Write out greeting cards, wrap gifts, bake, or decorate. Help them shop online for that special birthday gift they want to buy someone. Even if their physical participation is limited, just being there and feeling like they have input makes them feel appreciated.