How to Help the Elderly Cope with the Holiday Blues

The holiday season is right around the corner. For most of us, this is a happy time of bonding with friends and family. The holidays, however, can be a time of sadness for seniors. Additionally, health problems and physical limitations can intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation. Therefore, if you are a caregiver or family member of an elderly person, you may observe a change in his or her mood and behavior during the holidays. Memories of happier times resurface – times when the person was young, active, and had friends and family who were still alive. For some elderly persons, the holidays bring a painful reminder of what has been lost, of what once was. Below are some quick and easy tips to help the elderly fight the holiday blues:

  1. Plan ahead. Prepare an agenda of activities for the holidays. If you’re a caregiver, consult with the family members on ways to get them involved. If you’re a family member, plan something special and include other family members if possible. It could be as simple as making holiday cookies or inviting friends over. It is important to engage elderly people during the holiday season. Participating in activities can lift one’s mood and serve as a healthy distraction from depressogenic thoughts.If the elderly person is vulnerable to over-stimulation, limit the number of activities and noise because it can lead to irritability and confusion. Plan ahead of time to designate a person to give some companionship to the individual. Having some company during the holiday blues can be therapeutic.
  2. Validate the individual’s loss (e.g., of abilities, of independence, of loved ones, etc.) but also focus on the positives. Validating one’s loss and emotions demonstrates genuine concern and empathy. The conversation can be about honoring those who have passed or mourning the loss of abilities possessed in earlier times. Assist the individual in finding ways to remember the good times experienced with loved ones. The holiday season provides an opportunity for reminiscing and great storytelling.
  3. Communicate. If you notice that an elderly person seems down, don’t hesitate to communicate and ask how he or she is feeling. If the person is reluctant to communicate or displays irritability, distress, or fatigue, seek consultation from a medical or mental health professional. Don’t assume anything.
  4. Take the focus off of gift-giving. A lot of seniors are on fixed incomes; therefore, gift-giving can cause anxiety and stress if this is expected of them. Focus on memories instead. For example, family members can write letters of gratitude for each other or share sentimental holiday notes.
  5. Provide personal care. Whether it’s helping someone get a haircut or taking someone out on a walk, focus on giving the elderly the care and attention they deserve. Everyone is different, of course, so be creative and find ways to cheer them up.
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