Note: This blog is about sadness or loneliness around the holidays. If you or a loved is, or might be, dealing with serious depression or another significant mental health concern, we encourage you to talk to your medical provider or call the National Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787.
For many people, the holidays can be their favorite time of year – family time, enjoying long-held traditions, great food, and sure, even the presents. The holidays can be a time of great joy and togetherness.
However, many older adults struggle during the holiday season. There can be a variety of factors that can lead to someone having the holiday blues:
A Sense of Loss
It could be that their spouse or partner passed away over the previous year, and this is their first holiday season without them. Or if not a spouse, a sibling, close friend(s) or other people important to them. As families gather, it can be difficult to ponder not doing so with someone with whom they’d been extremely close.
Perhaps your parent or loved one lives in a different city and can’t travel during the holidays. Loneliness and isolation are always concerns for older adults, but it can be particularly difficult during the holidays, when they see families around them gathering to celebrate the season.
An Expanding To-Do List
On the opposite end of loneliness are the older adults who might feel responsible for making sure their family’s holidays are special. Perhaps they’ve always hosted dinner and feel like they need to cook a big meal for lots of people. Maybe the list of gift recipients keeps growing with more grandkids. There may also be pressure to be the keepers and leaders of family traditions. And it can come amid worsening health or less mobility.
Let’s face it, the holidays can be expensive. From purchasing gifts, food and the price of travel if that’s an option, the costs quickly add up, and for older adults on a fixed income, it can lead to a great deal of stress.
How To Help
If you have an aging parent(s) or loved one(s), there are a few things you can do to help them during what can be a difficult time of year.
Let Them Be Heard
If their spouse or others close to them have passed in the last year, check in with your loved one to see how they’re doing. Ask them to reminisce about their holiday memories with that person (or people) or share anything else about them that may be on their mind.
The holidays and the new year can also be a time when an older adult may feel anxious about their own health and what may be ahead in the coming year. Ask them about their hopes for the new year, their fears and see if there’s anything they haven’t been telling you that might indicate concerns they may be harboring.
Make Sure They’re Included
If your loved one lives in the same city, check in with them throughout the holiday season to see which family events they’d like to be part of. From holiday markets to performances of The Nutcracker to just decorating the house, baking cookies and watching holiday movies, keep them in mind for whatever you might be doing.
Take A Load Off Their Plate
If you have a parent or loved one who often takes the lead on holiday activities, check in with them in advance and offer to help. Maybe offer to host the holidays at your home, or bring food to theirs, or help them with decorating. Many older adults feel responsible for maintaining holiday traditions for their family but it might be time to help pare down their to-do list.
Don’t Let Distance Deter You
If you don’t live in the same area as your loved one, and either you, or they, can’t travel, they can still be included in family festivities. Try to make sure they’re set up on Zoom, FaceTime or another similar platform and set up calls with them throughout the holidays. Maybe they can watch your family open presents. Or, film your kids opening the presents your loved one gave them and send them the video of their reaction afterwards. Technology can help your loved feel connected even from a distance.
The holidays are about giving, and what better way to do so than joining with your loved one to donate your time to a worthy cause. Whether it’s serving food at a shelter or working with an organization like Meals on Wheels, there’s no shortage of opportunities to help bring joy to others at this time of year.
Signs of a Larger Problem
Holiday blues can be a challenging time, but it’s also vital to recognize if it’s escalating into something more serious, like depression. If you notice some of the following symptoms, you’ll want to set an appointment with their primary care physician or a mental health professional as soon as possible:
- Persistent sadness
- A lack of pleasure in activities they might normally enjoy
- Increased consumption of alcohol or drugs
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Frequent crying
- Drastic changes in weight and appetite
- Drastic changes in sleep patterns, whether it’s more or less sleep
- Poor hygiene
- Decreased energy and/or increased fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
In addition to speaking to a physician or mental health professional, there’s also the option of the National Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787.
The Holidays at Prestige
At Prestige, we understand the struggles and difficulties that can exist for older adults and their families during the holidays. Many of our residents live away from family and can’t see them in person.
Our teams are empathetic to those residents and strive to bring joy and meaning to their holidays within our communities. From festive decorations, to delicious holiday meals, to helping residents connect with family via technology, our teams are here to help.
If you or a loved one is considering senior living, contact the Prestige community nearest you to learn more about how we help residents get the most out of the holiday season.