Seniors and Holiday Blues

HOUSTON (Nov. 30, 2010) – “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” at least that’s what the classic holiday song says. While the holidays are supposed to be a time of good cheer, for some – especially seniors – the holidays have the potential to bring on a bout of holiday blues.

According to the National Mental Health Association, reasons for feeling sad around the holidays are numerous, ranging from stress, fatigue and the inability to be with one’s family and friends.

Seniors are more susceptible to feelings of melancholy and sadness during the holidays according to Dr. Kavon Young, geriatrician at the Harris County Hospital District’s Baytown and Settegast Health Centers and UTHealth physician. 

“This is the time of year for reflection. Older adults may reflect on how quickly time passed or of friends and loved ones who have passed away,” Young said. “It is also a time when money constraints may become more evident and may leave seniors with feelings of guilt, helplessness or anxiety.”

Health challenges may also make it harder for the elderly to enjoy the holiday season.

To make the holidays more enjoyable for seniors, Dr. Young offers the following tips:

  • Volunteer – Seniors can volunteer at local food banks, shelters, nursing homes, churches, synagogues or schools. Volunteering can lift spirits when helping others and give seniors a continued sense of accomplishment and self worth.
  • Stay active – Social isolation places the elderly at increased risk for depression. We all need extra help this time of year and seniors can help family or friends with decorating, meal preparation and shopping. Seniors should attend get-togethers, religious programs or services, special holiday events such as plays or musical programs. These are activities that can be a great mood lifter.
  • Limit alcohol – Too much alcohol can lower the spirits.
  • Don’t deny or hide feelings – It’s OK to not feel “merry and bright” at some point during the holidays. Very often, these feelings can be improved by sharing them with others.
    If the seniors in your family have a hard time getting around, offer to help them out with their shopping needs and ask about transportation to get to your holiday gathering.

While a bout of holiday blues is usually temporary and mild, depression lasts longer and symptoms are more pronounced or severe.

Signs to look for are:

  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness
  • Thoughts about death and suicide
  • Mood changes such as irritability, crying spells or anxiety
  • Changes in the normal sleep pattern
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable things
  • Slowed thinking

If you suspect a family member suffers from depression, seek professional help for your loved one. Schedule a visit with their primary care physician, consult a geriatrician or local mental health provider.

“You can also be a good listener,” Young said. “Allow them to acknowledge and express their feelings and concerns or simply listen to their stories. Who knows? You may learn something interesting about them from their stories.”

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