For many of us the holidays are eagerly anticipated. It represents joy, love, family, peace, abundance, and feelings of belonging. As Andy Williams would say “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Still, certain members in our society experience something quite different. Holiday depression is common, especially in those who also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or commonly referred to as the Winter Blues. SAD is mostly seen in people who live in colder climates. According to the National Library of Medicine, the lack of exposure to natural sunlight causes our brains to produce less serotonin, which is linked to our mood and feelings of satisfaction. Holiday blues can trigger feelings of loneliness or isolation, and the reasons behind these feelings may differ from person to person. In seniors, the underlying causes may be:
• Changes in routine
• Complications from illnesses
• A new diagnosis
• Loss of independence (either real or perceived)
• Decrease in regular socialization
• Moving to new environment (even if it was his/her choice)
It is important to recognize the most typical symptoms for early intervention. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation's list of signs include:
• Insomnia (regular lack of sleep)
• Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
• Frequent crying
• Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
• Constant sadness
• Personality shifts
According to the American Medical Resource Institute, approximately 6 million people over 65 are clinically depressed. The good news is there are ways family members, caregivers and senior living community team members can help. The holidays can be hectic and stressful for us all, but it only takes a few minutes to:
Stop: Stop what you are doing to pay attention to elderly family members, friends or residents. Oftentimes, changes are noticeable. Do not dismiss red flags as a part of the aging process.
Look: Look for reasons that may be causing them to feel depressed. Did they recently lose a loved one? Are they mourning the loss of someone they lost long ago? Did their health take a turn for the worse? Look for ways to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and for opportunities to engage them in something fun.
Listen: Listening is one of the best ways we can show someone we care. Allowing elderly loved ones to share memories of how they spent the holidays as children or how family traditions were started can make a world of difference.
Giving extra attention to our most cherished members of society during this time is one of the most important things we can do. The holiday spirit is about sharing and caring. So, let us all be mindful of the needs of others and do what we can to make a difference.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.