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Holiday Blues in Older Adults

holiday blues in older adults One of the big challenges of the holidays can be all the hype about “over the river and through the woods…” along with all the mandatory “holiday cheer.” If that is the way reality works, why is it that when you visit Grandmother or Grandfather, they appear more blue than merry? Depression during the holidays is very real, but it also is different from “clinical depression.” And when you visit your older loved ones, you may see the signs of holiday depression. So, what will you be walking into and what can you do about it?
What is holiday depression? First, of all, there are a lot of expectations for “jolly holidays” that simply do not square with reality, and we can thank the popular press as well as Hollywood for some of that. But there is more. Holidays are times when we all come together to celebrate family. For older adults, some of those people who used to be such important parts of the family celebration may now have died. So instead of holiday cheer, there is a real sense of holiday loss. This is all the more acute for the “firsts.” The first holiday without mom or dad is really poignant just as the first anniversary of their passing or the first of their birthdays without their being present can really bring a person up short. A holidays this year also will be framed by all the holidays that have preceded this one and all the people that were part of the earlier celebrations. Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza have been defined by the people who were present then, but absent now.
Some do’s and don’ts. If you have an older loved one who seems to be feeling the seasonal blues, encourage them to be socially involved where they can. Do not let them fuel the depression by being isolated as well. Also, pay attention as we move through and beyond the holidays If the blues last months instead of weeks, the depression may be clinical. Clinical depression should be addressed by a professional who can help a person get back to a better path. And an important “don’t” – don’t tell the -person they should not be depressed or tell them to simply “snap out of it.” The blue feelings they have are valid, and people do not choose to be depressed. Ask if there is anything you as a caregiver can do to help. Talking can help to get some of the sadness out. And getting back to that potential for social isolation, offer to take an older loved one who is depressed out. They may enjoy some “shopping therapy,” or the preparations in the kitchen or other venues where people are gathering to prepare for or to celebrate the holidays. Simple physical activity can be part of the catharsis to help combat the holiday blues.
So, celebrate the past, but let go. Encourage your older loved ones also to engage in helping others, in giving to others. The reaching out will do much for helping them to feel integrated as well as offer a sense of validation of self.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to


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