The holidays are upon us, and that means great food, family and friends. This is a time of year when many families visit their aging loved ones, often seeing them face-to-face for the first time in months, perhaps an entire year. That’s why experts advise families to carefully watch for signs of possible depression or medical issues in older adults during holiday visits, be prepared with an arsenal of spirit-lifting activities and develop a plan of action before heading home.
Physical and Emotional Health of Aging Loved Ones
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 15 of every 100 adults over the age of 65 are affected by depression. “Although the holiday season is typically a time of celebration and joy, this time of year can create a sense of nostalgia that may produce melancholy amongst the senior population,” says Sharon Roth Maguire, Chief Clinical Officer for BrightStar Care. “Family visits are a prime opportunity to not only observe for warning signs, but also provide much-needed companionship, mental stimulation and general uplifting activities. In many cases, these visits can be lifesaving.”
Roth Maguire encourages family members to look for the following signs when visiting their loved ones:
Physical Signs – Take note of changes in sleeping and eating habits, including reduced appetite and difficulty sleeping. Accidents around the home, including dizziness or falling could also indicate a physical condition or side effects of improperly mixing medications/taking the wrong doses.
Appearance – Not shaving, not doing hair or makeup, and neglected hygiene can signal the inability to physically care for themselves on their own, or a loss of interest in appearance. Either may indicate depression, or a wide range of undiagnosed conditions that require professional attention.
Emotional Signs – Seniors are especially susceptible to feelings of isolation and depression because of health, financial issues or the loss of a spouse or other loved ones, especially during the holiday season. As families gather together, pay close attention to see if your aging loved one seems disinterested in group conversations and appears dazed or lackluster.
Environmental Signs – Look for an abnormally messy or cluttered home, piles of laundry or unpaid bills or rotting food in the refrigerator. Any of these things could be a sign that the older adult may be depressed, disinterested, or no longer be able to perform these household tasks on their own, requiring an outside caregiver to help.
Tips for Reducing Loneliness
The holidays are times for family, friends and food. Time-honored traditions of gathering with loved ones and sharing in the holiday spirit are things to look forward to, but for some, there can be isolation and even depression in seniors, who can have an especially hard time with the holiday season. There are certain losses that can hinder even the healthiest people, including illness and death among other aging relatives and friends. The holidays can bring this loneliness to the light.
For family members and even caregivers, there is hope for our elders. Here are a few ways to reduce loneliness in the elderly during the holidays.
Dealing With Depression in Seniors
Much like their younger counterparts, seniors must adhere to basic principles such as a smart diet and physical exercise in order to stay in the best shape possible. While seniors are more susceptible to injuries and diseases, activity can keep seniors at their best. But this can be easier said than done if a senior is dealing with seasonal depression or the “winter blues.”
Dealing with depression in the elderly and addressing emotional health is a critical piece of overall wellness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older are affected by depression. Most people in this stage of life with depression have experienced this throughout their life while others develop this later in life and is usually closely associated with dependency and disability.
Senior Flu Prevention
The holidays and winter are also an important time for senior flu prevention, as this time marks the start of flu season. It’s also important that other family members do their part to ward off infection so as not to pass any illness along to elderly family members, who are more susceptible.
When it comes to flu prevention and infection prevention overall, seniors aged 65 and over are an important and often more vulnerable segment of the population. In fact, for seniors, the flu doesn’t always just mean discomfort, but can also potentially lead to more serious complications like pneumonia and side effects like delirium. The good thing about flu season is that there are some things that everyone can do to help prevent the flu.