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Holiday Blues and Older Adults

By Julie Hayes | 12/13/2019

The carols tell us that winter “Tis the season to be jolly,” but this can often be easier said than done. Many people get the holiday blues, and older adults are no exception, especially if they have recently received difficult news or are struggling with their health. The holiday season can often trigger memories of loved ones who have passed away as well. When a loved one is feeling blue, it is more important than ever for us to rally around them, help to contribute a positive atmosphere and find ways for them to create fresh and happy memories.

Here are some tips that can help us brighten a loved one’s spirits and chase away the holiday blues:

1. Develop new holiday traditions

As we age, it may become difficult for us to participate in traditions the same way we used to. For example, a loved one may no longer be physically able to get all their favorite holiday decorations in place. Rather than having them give up this important tradition, we can help them create a new way of decorating their home. One example is to encourage grandchildren and friends to get involved by moving the boxes up from the basement or attic, or by assisting a loved one in decorating the tree. We can also have a loved one tell stories about their favorite decorations and share memories about past holidays.

2. Actively involve a loved one

We can help a loved one cheer up by encouraging them to keep busy and putting their strengths and skills to good use. If their health allows for it, we can include them in plans and invite them to participate in holiday activities. In many cases, a loved one may be sad because they are no longer able to host a holiday event on their own, so if we can, we should find ways for them to help contribute to the event so they can have an opportunity to stay active and take part in the things they enjoy. If a loved one doesn’t have plans to attend an event for the holidays, we can also suggest that they volunteer at a soup kitchen or hospital if they are able to.

3. Find ways to relax

While it is important to help our loved ones stay active and engaged this holiday season, we should also be aware that party planning can be tiring, so we should allow for some down time during this hectic season, and encourage our loved ones to take time for themselves. We can also encourage them to unwind with more relaxing activities such as listening to holiday music, watching old Christmas movies or telling stories with friends or grandchildren. If a loved one is living with memory loss they may become confused and frustrated by large crowds at holiday gatherings, so we should work to create an environment that is best suited to their individual needs this holiday season, and avoid potentially high-stress situations.

4. Monitor a loved one’s emotional wellness

If the holiday blues persist, we should make an effort to keep an eye on a loved one and make sure they are not turning to potentially harmful outlets to cope with their sadness. Alcohol consumption is a common way for people to deal with sorrow, so we should be careful in monitoring a loved one’s intake, as alcohol does not mix with many medications, and the way the body handles alcohol can change with age. We can instead direct our loved ones to more positive outlets to manage their sadness. For example, if spirituality is comforting to a loved one, we can consider driving them to their place of worship and attending services with them.

5. Provide financial guidance

Money can often be an issue which contributes to holiday blues, especially if a loved one worries they do not have enough to go around during the holiday season. If we are able to, we may want to consider helping them financially with their holiday shopping. We can also help them find inexpensive gifts for their friends, family and other loved ones so they can stay within their budget, or help them make a homemade gift. Personalized letters, handwritten family stories and photos of important memories can make for even more precious gifts than things that can be bought from a store.

6. Offer support from wherever you may be

If we do not live close to our loved ones, we may need to make an extra effort to communicate with them during the holiday season. We can stay connected to a loved one by sending a greeting card in the mail, making phone calls or video chatting using a service like FaceTime or Skype.

7. Seek help

If the blues go on for longer than a month, it may be time for us to talk to our family physician to see if our loved one is suffering from depression. Depression is a life-threatening illness for older adults, and needs to be taken seriously.

Caregivers can also feel increased stress during the holiday season. Our lives are already packed juggling our own responsibilities over the holidays with taking care of ourselves and a loved one. If we are feeling overwhelmed, we should be sure to take a break, call a friend for help, cut back on our plans and realize that everything does not need to be perfect.