For many seniors there are a lot of things to look forward to when the holiday season begins: celebrating the holidays with family and friends, creating new memories, reminiscing about the past, and seeing the excitement on little faces as they tear into their presents under the tree.
While the holidays are a wonderful way to close out each year and look forward to the new one, some people, particularly seniors, have a hard time mustering up their holiday cheer. It can also be a stressful time for caregivers — take our holiday stress quiz to see what’s causing you stress.
If you’re caring for an elderly person and find that they seem a little blue as the holidays approach, here are a few tips you can use to help them overcome these feelings and enjoy the festive season.
Spend Quality Time Together
Try to spend as much time as possible with the elderly person you’re caring for before, during, and after the holidays. The holiday season can be a lonely time for seniors (especially if they are living in a long-term care facility) and can bring back memories of family and friends who are no longer here. Your holiday visits will help them create new memories and new bonds with you and your family.
Involve Seniors in Holiday Plans
Involve your elderly parent in your plans for festivities. For example, asking someone their opinion on the menu for Christmas dinner may seem trivial to you, but it could mean the world to a senior who may be feeling a bit down or neglected.
You can also help them beat the holiday blues in other simple ways by getting them involved in activities such as:
- Decorating the Christmas tree
- Selecting and shopping for gifts
- Reminiscing over old holiday photos
Create New Holiday Memories and Traditions
Try to find senior-friendly holiday activities that they can easily participate in, such as window shopping at the mall during an off-peak time, or visiting their friends.
Activities that involve the whole family, such as Sunday lunch at home or a favourite restaurant, will be especially meaningful and memorable.
Invite your parent along to any school holiday programs that your children or grandchildren may be involved in. The excitement leading up to the day of the performance will help them in overcoming their holiday blues and any lingering feelings of loneliness by giving them a fun event to look forward to attending.
Host a Small Gathering
If possible, suggest having a small holiday gathering of friends and family at your home or the facility where the senior in your care lives. You can help organize the invitations and plan the menu, but make it clear that this is their party and you will be taking direction from them. Make this a family activity by enlisting the help of other family members, especially any older children or teenagers, to help in the preparations, serving, and clean-up. In addition to creating new holiday memories with their grandparents, they’ll learn the value of spending time with and doing something nice for their elders.
Encourage the person in your care to stay active with light exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Light yoga or dance classes are often enjoyable. Physical activity is a great way to beat the holiday blues, especially if you and the person in your care find an activity you both enjoy.
If 30 minutes is too much, try starting with five minutes of easy stretches or walking around the house, and gradually add more minutes as they build up their stamina. Remember, a little exercise is better than none. Exercising together creates accountability and builds motivation – and has an added benefit of bonding through a shared experience.
Experiencing the Blues Anytime of Year
Christmas isn’t the only holiday in the year that can trigger the holiday blues in seniors; any holiday or special occasion can cause loneliness and depression in seniors because it tends to bring up memories of family and friends who are no longer alive, or have moved too far away to easily visit.
The nice thing about these tips for overcoming holiday blues is that they can be used all year round, during any season, to help combat loneliness and prolonged sadness in seniors.
One thing to note is that if a senior is experiencing the blues during the holidays or at any time of the year, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re clinically depressed. Depression is not a normal part of aging, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of senior depression, and how to treat it.
If you see prolonged symptoms of depression or signs of depression in the elderly person you’re taking care of, or if their behaviour has you concerned for their well-being, encourage them to see a doctor in case medical intervention is required.
What are some of your tips to help an elderly parent or senior in your care overcome the holiday blues? Let us know in the comments below.