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Seasonal holiday depression is a major concern for older adults. Here is a simple guide to helping seniors get through the holidays this year.
The holiday season is typically associated with joyous gatherings, family reunions, and great cheer. But for many seniors, this time of year can bring on feelings of loneliness and depression. If you know someone who’s a senior citizen, it’s important to understand the signs of seasonal holiday depression and what you can do to help them cope during this special time.
Why Do People Get Depressed on the Holiday?
This time of year always passes quickly, with all that is expected from buying gifts, spending quality time with friends & family, company parties, cooking, and of course, work responsibilities. Most of you probably have similar agendas.
The other day I talked to a friend who shared that he becomes depressed around the holidays. Over the years, he has lost many family members and friends. Growing up, he celebrated Christmas with extended family–approximately 40-50 relatives. It has now dwindled down to a few people. Some family married or moved away, but the foundational members that originally brought everyone together have long since died.
What is Holiday Depression?
Holiday Depression, also known as the holiday blues, is a common depression that is associated directly with the holiday season and is isolated to a particular period of time.
Holiday depression symptoms include:
- Overconsumption of alcohol or other substances
What Causes Senior Citizens to Have Seasonal Holiday Depression?
The holiday season can be especially challenging for seniors due to various factors. For one, many seniors are dealing with physical limitations that make it difficult or impossible for them to travel or attend festive events.
Reminders of the Past Times Now Gone
Holidays also often remind people of the past. Some may be excited about the changes that have occurred in their lives, while others may wish to return to a happier time.
One of my previous clients often talks about her parents around the holidays. At 88, she still longs to return to the “good ole days” when she lived in Ohio and rode her sled on snowy days. These were happier times…before she and her parents had a falling out, and then she moved far away.
This client is one of many that have spoken out about their depression, especially around the holidays. Most older adults have lost some type of significant relationship over the years. Unfortunately, this is a normal part of growing older….for any age.
After talking at length to my friend about his “holiday depression,” we agreed on one point. The only way to manage the losses incurred is to be open to new experiences. As he ages, he may one day be a foundational figure in his family. Where new family members come together and spend quality time over the holiday season. One day his future grandchildren may look back at these times (like my previous client) as the “good ole days.”
Seniors often have a limited income with either a pension or social security compensation. The expectation is that gifts must be purchased for all the grandkids and family members. Depending on the year, this could be one of the factors leading to holiday depression.
How Can We Help Seniors Cope with Seasonal Holiday Depression?
It’s important to remember that everyone experiences emotions differently—and different things work for different people. That said, there are some simple steps you can take to help a senior citizen in your life cope with seasonal holiday depression:
1. Reach Out & Provide Support
Make sure the older adult you know feels supported and connected by reaching out via phone calls, text messages, or video chats throughout the holidays. You don’t have to overdo it; just let them know that you care about them and are thinking about them during this particular time of year.
2. Get Creative with Holiday Celebrations
If a senior cannot travel or attend public events due to physical limitations or health concerns, why not celebrate at home?
Put on some festive music, create a fun menu together (or order takeout from their favorite restaurant!), exchange gifts (if applicable), and make memories that will last long after the holidays end. Focus on making the gathering fun without adding additional stress!
3. Help Them Make New Connections
If possible, connect the senior in your life with others who may be experiencing similar feelings of loneliness or isolation due to age-related issues like mobility challenges or the loss of loved ones. Whether it’s through an online support group or joining a local social club specifically designed for seniors (such as AARP), finding like-minded peers may help reduce feelings of loneliness during this season.
Final Thoughts on Seasonal Holiday Depression
The holidays should be a time filled with joyous moments spent with loved ones—but unfortunately, many seniors experience seasonal holiday depression instead. It’s essential that we all do our part in helping our seniors feel supported and connected during this particular time. Simple things like reaching out, getting creative with celebrations at home if necessary, and connecting them with others who share similar experiences so they don’t feel alone during this season!