Helping Seniors Avoid the Post-Holiday Blues
Most of us have heard of the holiday blues. The feeling of depression, loneliness and sadness around the holidays is a very real thing and is often a reaction to the demands and stress of the season.
Seniors are not immune to the holiday blues but there is a common misconception that suicides among the elderly increase during the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, however, suicides are actually at their lowest during the month of December. Unfortunately, those rates peak after the holidays.
Families and friends often visit the elderly more often around the holidays and there is usually a lot of activity to keep seniors busy and engaged. Unfortunately, visits often drop off in the New Year and seniors can be left feeling alone and more isolated.
One reason depression and thoughts of suicide among the elderly are often overlooked is because sadness is not always the primary symptom. Instead, depression often manifests itself in the following ways:
- Feelings of helplessness, guilt or pessimism
- Increased fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Weight loss or gain
- Thoughts of death
- Aches, pains and digestive issues with no clear cause and which don’t respond to treatment
In many cases, the elderly may refuse to talk about their feelings. They also may attribute their feelings of sadness as a normal part of aging. This is concerning since depression is a major predictor of suicide in seniors and seniors comprise approximately 20 percent of the nation’s total number of deaths by suicide. White males over 85 are especially vulnerable. The suicide rate for this group is almost six times higher than the national average.
If you suspect that your elderly parent is suffering from depression following the holidays, or at any other time, it is important that you encourage them to seek treatment. If you believe they are in immediate danger, it is essential to seek professional help immediately. If your loved one has been prescribed medicine for depression, make sure that they are taking it as directed.
Many families feel helpless when they see their older parent struggling. Perhaps the most important thing that you can do for your loved one is to let them know that they are not alone and listen to them.
In addition to getting your loved one the proper mental health care, there are other ways to help alleviate feelings of loneliness and promote wellness.
- Encourage your loved one to engage in a hobby. Whether it is something they enjoyed in the past or learning something new, hobbies will keep your elderly parent engaged and give them something to look forward to each day.
- Emphasize the importance of eating right and exercising. Nutritious meals and exercise can help keep depression at bay. Encourage your parent to eat a balanced diet and go on walks.
- Take advantage of the latest advances in technology and health care. Home assistants can play your loved one’s favorite music, weighted blankets can help with anxiety, and light therapy and gratitude apps on smartphones can improve an aging parent’s mood and outlook on life.
- Adopt a pet. Studies show that seniors who own a pet feel a greater sense of purpose and enjoy the unconditional love and companionship such animals provide.
- Hire an in-home caregiver. Seniors who remain at home are generally happier, according to many studies. Hiring an in-home caregiver can help a parent feel less isolated, provide any assistance they may require and allow them to age in place.
Caring for a depressed loved one is challenging. However, supporting your aging parent through depression is something many adult children will be called on to do at some point. Thankfully, there is help out there to assist you in meeting your parent’s mental health needs.