Holiday Blues - Depression among the Elderly
Last updated 2/19/2020 at 12:07pm | View PDF
The holiday season offers many opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends. If you are a caregiver or family member of an aging loved one, you may observe a change in their mood or behavior during the holidays. You may notice unusual signs of fatigue or sadness or perhaps limited interest in the holiday season.
The winter holiday season (and the colder months which accompany it) can intensify feelings of sadness which aging seniors often experience. Most often it is not the holiday itself that cause these types of emotions among the elderly, rather the fact that the holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, perhaps happier times.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also termed winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues or seasonal depression, was originally considered a mood disorder among those with normal mental health throughout most of the year, but who experience depressive symptoms at a certain time of year.
Recently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders stopped classifying SAD as a unique mood disorder, but instead as a recurrent major depressive disorder "with seasonal pattern" that occurs only during a specific time of year and fully remits thereafter. Although initially skeptical, experts now recognize this condition as a common disorder, with prevalence among adults ranging from 1.4% in Florida to as many as 9.7% in New Hampshire.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that, "Some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up... The condition in the summer can include heightened anxiety."
Remember to consider SAD as a possible condition your aging loved one might be experiencing, even if your loved one is living in a warm geographical area. In any case, the question on our minds should be how can I "light" up their lives and help with the situation?
Depression in the Elderly
Depression in the elderly can be caused by a minor or serious medical problem; chronic pain or complications of an illness; memory loss; poor diet; loss of a spouse, close friend or companion; a move to a care facility; lack of exercise; change in routine; or general frustrations with aging. Symptoms to look for include:
• Depressed or irritable mood
• Feelings of worthlessness or sadness
• Expressions of helplessness
• Loss of interest in daily activities
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
• Lack of attention to personal care and hygiene
• Difficulty concentrating
• Irresponsible behavior
• Obsessive thoughts about death and suicide
Help during the Holidays
As a caregiver or family member of a depressed older person, make it your responsibility to get involved. The elder person generally denies any problems or may fear being mentally ill, which can make it that much harder to know if they are having any issues.
You can help the elder person feel the magic of the season and feel loved by including them in general activities such as:
• Making holiday cookies - Including distributing them to neighbors, family and friends.
• Church Activities - If you or the elderly person is a church goer, churches are filled with holiday activities that need volunteers.
• Shopping - Holiday shopping can be time consuming, but it's always nice to have a companion.
• Seasonal Crafts - So much to be made in such a little time.
• Vacation - Make it simple or complicated, visit family or even stay in town and see the sites as if you've never been.
• Decorating - Decorating a house can be time consuming, pulling out all the boxes and going through everything. Get the kids involved, make a day of it.
• Holiday Parties - When making the rounds, including an elderly person can help keep them occupied and social.
• Gift Wrapping - It seems like this never ends and it is an easy task.
• Christmas Lighting - Adding indoor lights can help get everyone in the season and aid in relief of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
• Volunteering - Remember to find something that fits the physical limitations of the elderly person. If they love kids, visit a children's hospital. Feeding the homeless can be fun and humbling.
• Event Planning - Have a party you need to throw? Help the elderly person feel productive and useful by making them the party organizer, even if it's a small get together. Their opinion is important not only to them. Let them delegate tasks to you.
• Gift Making - Making gifts and being thrifty is the new Rolex of gifts, go on Pinterest and find some easy crafts or projects. Their blog will contain cost effective and fun gifts you can make during the season.
• Exercise - Physical limitations of most elderly make this hard. Try simple exercises and work your way up to more complicated ones with time.
• Getting a treatment - A great haircut or hot shave can make you feel wonderful. A pedicure is a bonus for both men and women, most salons also do a leg massage during the pedicure.
• Friends - It is easy to neglect friends throughout your life, the same happens with the elderly, especially those who rely on a caregiver. Calling their friends and getting them together regularly can be a big help. No one relates better to the elderly, than the elderly. They are a great support system and can recommend items and products to each other to help with their needs.
• Feelings - It can be as simple as asking how are you feeling internally? Not everyone can tell you, most elderly don't want to burden their caregivers and loved ones. That doesn't mean you shouldn't ask.
• Fresh Air and Sunshine - Cold or warm, sunshine and fresh air is good for the soul, it also helps with Vitamin D.
Gregory A. Steen is the CEO and founder of Steen & Company, a full-service estate planning firm, serving seniors and their families since 1987. He is certified in life resource planning and brings over two decades of leadership and experience in financial advice, asset protection strategies, and post-retirement planning. Known also as the host of the "Truth4Seniors" TV and radio programs, Steen's current passions include facilitating workshops for professional advisors, writing the Truth4Seniors blog, golf and family.