Posted by: wrcseniorservices | November 25, 2011

Bringing Joy to the Elderly this Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving behind us, the Christmas season has kicked into full gear – a time of celebrating with family, friends and co-workers and enjoying those long-standing family traditions. In our family every December means watching our favorite Christmas movies, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life”  (which we can quote by heart), sipping hot apple cider and playing some lively board games.

Santa Dog brings good cheer at Laurelbrooke Landing

It’s a time for decking the halls in tinsel, twinkling lights and candy canes and thanking God for his greatest gift. It’s a time when joy is toasted, carried on a song and wrapped in little red bows. But for some, joy will be in short supply this holiday season. There is a sharp increase in depression in the elderly during the month of December.

Think about all the things that you love about the holidays – your favorite parties, favorite foods, favorite family traditions, seeing all those loved ones and friends. Your elderly loved one had a lifetime of those too, but things have changed. They may have loved ones who’ve passed away or moved away, they may have health issues that prevent them from enjoying those holiday events. Instead of being a time of joy, Christmas becomes a reminder of all the things that have changed, the things that they’ve lost.

What can you do to help an elderly loved one who’s having a blue Christmas? First, watch for the signs.

  • Frequent crying
  • Loss of interest in the things they usually enjoy
  • Increased irritability
  • Sleeping a lot
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Not eating
  • Lack of personal care – not showering or combing their hair, wearing pjs all the time

If you think an elderly loved one is struggling with the holiday blues, here are some things you can do.

  1. Visit, call or write more frequently. They are acutely aware of being alone this time of year. A little extra reaching out will help ease that loneliness.
  2. Involve them in planning family outings and activities. Ask for their suggestions and opinions. This will make them feel included and still a part of family traditions.
  3. If they are able, encourage them to get out of the house and go to activities at the local senior center or their church. Getting out of the house for a little social interaction goes a long way to easing depression. If they can’t get out, ask their pastor or friends to make a visit.
  4. Reminisce about the past with them, rejoicing in those memories and giving thanks. Look at old photos and swap favorite memories.
  5. Encourage them to make a list of what they are thankful for in their lives right now. Nothing lifts the spirit better than focusing instead on what you have, not on what you don’t have.
  6. Talk to them about their sadness. Express your concern and empathize by sharing a time you’ve felt sad or out of sorts. Then listen. Sometimes all they need is a caring heart and open ears.
  7. If you have small children, have them make a Christmas craft together. Not only will they enjoy the time together, but they’ll have a gift they can give. You could also bring some holiday stories they can read to each other.

    Making it look like Christmas, will make it feel like Christmas!

  8. Acknowledge those who have passed away that your loved one is missing as part of your holiday celebration. A few ways you can do that – light a candle as a memorial, make a toast, place their picture in a place of honor or take turns sharing your favorite funny story or memory about them.
  9. Make new traditions together. Yes, a lot has changed. Giving them new things to look forward to will help.
  10. If they always enjoyed a brightly-decorated home but can no longer do it or are living in a long term care community, decorate for them. Being surrounded with the beauty of the holidays will brighten their spirits.

If none of these suggestions help or your loved one’s depression is persisting beyond the holiday season, it may be time to talk to their doctor.

Please feel free to comment and share any suggestions you have for making it a Merry Christmas for elderly loved ones. Wishing you and your loved ones a truly blessed and joyous holiday season together!

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