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Holiday blues may lead to depression

It’s normal for most of us to get a little melancholy over the holidays. As we reflect on the year gone by and those family and friends no longer here to celebrate with us, it’s not unusual to feel the “holiday blues” set in. The stress of rushing to find that perfect gift, coupled with the time change and shorter, colder days, can be overwhelming for anyone.

But for older adults, the holidays can be an extremely hard time emotionally. They may feel forgotten or lonely as declining energy and mobility keep them from shopping for gifts or attending parties with more active relatives. They may feel as though they’ve lost their purpose, especially if they took great pride in planning, baking and cooking for the holidays in their younger years.

Also, they may be overcome with grief as they think back to holidays past and loved ones who have passed away. Nostalgia for the past and lament for lost traditions can make it difficult for older adults to enjoy the family and friends with them now or the new traditions that have sprung up to replace the old. The recent loss of a loved one, especially a spouse or other close family member, can lead one’s thoughts to dwell on that loved one’s absence.

Health problems may also make it difficult for seniors to enjoy the holidays and lead to depression. A person probably won’t feel much like celebrating while dealing with chronic pain or limited mobility. Trips to the doctor or hospital might get in the way of holiday plans, and seniors aware of their mental decline may not want to socialize due to the fear of embarrassment.

Even though the blues may be a normal part of the holiday season for many, if those feelings persist once the holiday season ends, it could be senior depression. It is important to recognize the signs of depression in our older friends and family members in order to get them the proper treatment and to help them cope with the disorder.

Signs of senior depression include changes in appetite and weight loss, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, a lack of interest in socializing or participating in normal activities, alcohol or drug abuse, mood changes and increases in anger, and feelings of overwhelming sadness, hopelessness and despair. In fact, because it shares so many similarities with other age-related conditions, senior depression often is not properly diagnosed.

However, there are things that can be done to help an older loved one get through the emotional difficulties that arise during this time of year. Keeping an older adult active and engaged can raise their spirits and let them know they are important to their family’s holiday plans.

One of the best ways to help is simply to listen. Letting an older adult talk through their feelings of sadness and isolation can help them work past those negative emotions. Listening as they explain the challenges presented by a medical condition or mourn for the loss of a spouse can help them acknowledge those feelings and, hopefully, move past them.

Including an older relative in holiday plans whenever possible is another way to work through the hard times associated with the holiday season. Whether it’s taking them to a special holiday party or taking them out shopping for the perfect gift, spending quality time with seniors makes them feel less isolated and lets them know they’re still important to family and friends.

If an older adult isn’t able to leave the home easily, loved ones can find something to do inside the home, which may include favorite holiday activities such as cooking, baking or decorating. If physical limitations make even those things impossible, the loved one can be included in wrapping gifts or sending out greeting cards.

Exercise is always a good way to improve mood and combat depression in people of all ages. Research has shown that even low-intensity physical activity over time helps to change the brain’s chemistry, resulting in positive emotional changes. In addition to the changes in mood and the other health benefits associated with staying active, it also helps to stimulate appetite in older adults.

It may also be necessary to seek professional help in dealing with depression, especially in cases where symptoms persist when the holidays are over. Antidepressant medication, talk therapy, or both may be necessary to help seniors overcoming their feelings of helplessness and despair when other avenues fail.

Although depression is more common in older adults suffering from other chronic conditions such as cancer or heart disease, most seniors are not depressed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only between one and five percent of older adults at home are living with depression. That number increases to 11.5 percent for older patients in hospitals.

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Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home assessment, call 330-332-1203.

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