Older Adult Mental Health: Help for Holiday Sadness

During the holiday season, older adult mental health frequently comes to a head. Although this season is typically viewed as the season of joy, for many seniors the holidays are a time of sadness. Yearning for holidays past, grief over the loss of close friends and family, and troublesome changes to health can magnify all through the holiday season, and it’s crucial to take steps to help senior loved ones avoid the downward fall into depression.

Start by asking yourself these three questions if a senior you love is feeling depressed this holiday season.

  1. Might it be normal nostalgia? Wistful feelings of nostalgia, recalling pre-pandemic holiday celebrations and get-togethers, are normal for all of us. See if the senior’s sadness is lifted after a journey down memory lane, or if it remains no matter the topic of conversation.
  2. Is health impacted? If for example, your family member is struggling to sustain a healthy diet, has problems falling or staying asleep each night, is losing weight, and/or feeling fatigued, these could all be signs and symptoms of depression.
  3. Is the senior disengaged? Watch for a disinterest in previously-enjoyed activities, decreased motivation, difficulties with concentration and focus, and/or the inability to sit still without fidgeting, as these are also common in depression.

Lara Honos-Webb, clinical psychologist and author of “Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life,” compares the distinction between sadness and depression to colors. “A person is blue if they have deep, colorful emotions in response to loss in life. Depression is more like the color black – there [are] no subtle colors to the emotion but stark pain.”

It’s important to seek medical attention if depression is suspected – and even if you’re not sure – as effective treatment is readily available and essential, and early detection and treatment are key. There are a number of steps family members can take to support an older adult with depression:

  • Make a list of the senior’s interests, and set a schedule to take part in several of them together.
  • Encourage the senior to exercise with you, including getting outside for walks to appreciate nature.
  • Turn on some of the older adult’s favorite music, or if the senior plays a musical instrument, request that she or he play some songs for you.
  • Stay positive yourself, providing affirmations to remind your senior family member of your love as well as the many small but wonderful aspects each new day brings.
  • Above all, just be there, whatever the senior’s mood. In some cases, just sitting together quietly can make an enormous amount of difference in how someone feels.

Contact Seniorcorp, the leaders in companion care in Suffolk and the surrounding areas, at 757-640-0557. We proudly offer top-notch in-home care services and a variety of resources that can help enhance health and wellness for older adults, making every day the best it can be.