Holiday Blues in the Elderly

Instead of feeling joyful, the holidays can trigger bouts of sadness, loneliness, and depression in many adults– especially in seniors. It is usually not the holiday itself that causes sadness for aging adults. Rather, it is often a range of factors surrounding the events between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day that contribute to the holiday blues. The holidays not only reminds seniors of the loved ones they have lost but also the passage of time in their own lives.

Loneliness during the holidays is also magnified for those seniors who are alone with no family or friends who live nearby. Moreover, while the holidays can be stressful for most adults it is amplified for seniors who may not have the health, energy, or resources to enjoy all the activities.

Additionally, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. SAD typically starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. A sad mood is linked to lack of sunlight during the winter months due to shorter days.


Signs of Depression in Seniors

The holiday blues is temporary and goes away after the start of the new year. However, if you see any persistent symptoms in yourself or an elderly parent this could be a sign of depression. According to the National Institute on Aging, depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems.

Symptoms of ongoing depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood;
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities;
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism;
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being slowed down;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or over sleeping;
  • Appetite and/or unintended weight changes;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts;
  • Restlessness, irritability;
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.


It is important to note that suicidal thoughts or actions should never be ignored and the following actions should be taken:

  • Call your doctor.
  • Call 911 for emergency services.
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.


How to Help Seniors Cope with the Holiday Blues

  • Include your elderly loved ones in your holiday plans. Offer to provide transportation to and from an event. However, also respect their need to relax and have downtime. Let older adults know what the holiday plans are and let them decide what they can and cannot handle.
  • Go out. If possible, it’s important for older folks to leave the house and enjoy some fresh air everyday. Take a senior for a meal, a cup of coffee, or simply a ride in the car. Getting out of the house is a great mood lifter for everyone.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and any amount can lead to changes in the brain and add to feelings of sadness.
  • Have a conversation. It is important for the elderly to share their thoughts about what they are feeling around the holidays. Give a chance to seniors to express themselves. They will feel unburdened and their spirits lifted.


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