In spite of its reputation for being a season of joy, for quite a few older adults, the holidays are a period of deep despair. Longing for holidays past, sadness over the loss of close friends and family, and aging-related changes to health can intensify throughout the holiday season, and it’s imperative to take steps to help older loved ones avoid the downward slope into depression in seniors.
Begin by asking yourself these three questions if an older adult you love is feeling sad this holiday season.
- Might it be normal nostalgia? Wistful feelings of nostalgia, thinking of pre-pandemic holiday celebrations and get-togethers, are normal for all of us. See if the older adult’s sadness is lifted immediately following a trip down memory lane, or if it lingers regardless of the topic of conversation.
- Is health impacted? If your senior family member is struggling to sustain a healthy diet, has difficulty staying or falling asleep each night, is losing weight, and/or feeling fatigued, these could all be indications of depression.
- Is the senior disengaged? Look for a disinterest in previously-enjoyed hobbies, decreased 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 depression and sadness 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 is crucial to seek medical assistance if depression is suspected – or even if you’re not sure – as effective treatment is readily available and essential, and treatment and early detection are key. And there are particular steps family members can take to support a senior loved one with depression:
- Make a list of the older adult’s hobbies and interests, and set a schedule to engage in several of them together.
- Encourage your loved one to work out together with you, including getting outside for walks to appreciate nature.
- Turn on some of the senior’s favorite music, or if the senior plays an instrument, request that she/he play some songs for you.
- Continue being positive yourself, providing affirmations to remind your senior loved one of the countless small but wonderful aspects each new day brings.
- Above all, just be there, regardless of the older adult’s mood. Oftentimes, just sitting quietly together can make an enormous amount of difference in how someone feels.
Contact Harmony Home Health & Hospice, the experts in home health care in Orem, UT and surrounding areas, for additional resources and tips to help improve health and wellbeing for senior loved ones, and for the specialized home health care that makes every single day the best it can be.