Seniors and the Holiday Blues

Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, suggests that we play Santa-to-a-Senior this holiday season either in our own family or community.


We focus so much on children and the magic of Christmas that we often fail to pay homage to this very prominent group in our society. May we all take time to revere someone from this very key group who has paved the way for us. You can even call your local retirement home to adopt a grandparent. As we age, we face a variety of life changes. Retirement, physical limitations, and perhaps lose of a spouse or close friends. Now, many seniors fare very well amid these changes and continue to lead happy lives. Numerous studies support the notion that as we grow older our psychological health improves because we realize that time is of the essence and we have learned the wisdom of what’s most important in this world.

However, according to the Institute of Mental Health, about 7 million Americans who are 65 and older suffer from depression; among them, 2 million suffer depression so severe that they are at risk for suicide. (While men, especially, between the ages of 80 and 84).

There are particular influences that contribute to seniors being at risk for the “holiday blues.”


Many of our seniors have outlived a number of cherished friends and family members and these losses feel even more painful during the holidays. For many, the memories of holidays past so outshine present day celebrations they feel completely unable to experience joy in the here-and-now.


Many seniors face loneliness now, more than ever, with so many family members living apart these days. Even if they live in the same city, adult children often become so busy with their own lives and social obligations that they fail to recognize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to spending time with them during the holidays. And like any other group, they, too, face a let down of unmet expectations this time of year. Reality often falls short of hope, creating new lows of sadness, loneliness and despair.


The best way to help someone who is older and feeling sad and depressed is to give them a purpose. When we believe we are needed and have responsibilities it keeps our minds and bodies invigorated. We all need something to look forward to in life. There was a classis study back in the 70’s that looked at effects of giving nursing home residents choices. One group was given responsibility for themselves, along with a plant to care for. The other group had staff be responsible for them and the staff also took care of the plant! Guess who faired better? One can only imagine! The group that was given choices and responsibilities; the first group faired better.

They experienced significant improvement in alertness, participation, and overall well-being. The take-home message here for all of us is to keep active as we age, whether that means volunteering, maintaining a part-time job, or spending active time with family and friends.

Many have also found that assuming the responsibility of caring for and loving a pet brings new joy and companionship into their lives. But don’t spring a new four-legged creature on mom or dad; let them buy into the idea first and then help them to the human society to adopt a pet they connect to. (It’s very hard to choose a pet for someone else.)


It is so important to stay active and perhaps we can give seniors gifts that help them do just that. Physically, mentally, socially, spiritually….whatever we can do to help others help themselves can determine the difference between suffering and success. Some favorite gift ideas for seniors are seasonal tickets to events they enjoy; ball games, concerts, plays, or museums. Encourage them to be social. Purchase for them food that lasts; food that they can have on-hand to entertain without the stress when folks stop by, such as, nuts, dried fruit, assortment of teas, and cookies in tins.

For those who might be going to visit and stay with either their aging parents or grandparents who live outside the area, consider how you can take the pressure off of lodging and gift-giving. I know that it can be nostalgic to stay in the home you grew up in and saving money is appealing, especially this time of year, but consider alternate lodging in a near-by hotel especially if your family is not the only one coming home for the holidays. There is a strain when we prepare for company; beds need to be made, and there is an excess of laundry, cleaning, and shopping for groceries. Especially if you have little children – consider not just the stress on your older parent but also on you and your child.

And while you’re home or even if you’re parent lives close by, try to acknowledge others who lend support and care to our senior loved one. There are likely many special people who provide informal support to our parents, such as, neighbors, clergy, friends, doctors, pharmacists, or even the grocer. Just a note and small token of your appreciation is so important. Make an effort to connect with these important people you rely on as an extra set of caring eyes on your parent or you grandparent. We need each other; it takes a village to raise a child…and to care for an older parent.


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