As songs of joy and cheer fill the air, not everybody greets the holiday season with jolliness.
Even in the midst of celebration, some seniors experience a feeling of depression referred to as Blue Christmas.
While there are lots of things to love about the holidays, some seniors may struggle with the season. Health problems or mobility challenges may keep them from participating fully in certain holiday traditions. They may have lost loved ones who made the season special.
In these cases, Christmas and other holidays can be a reminder of what has been lost.
“For some people, they’re not where they want to be,” says Sarah Sjaaheim, director of social services and admissions at Eventide Fargo. “Maybe they needed to move where they could receive more care. It’s not what they imagined for Christmas, much less for their future. They’re mourning.”
Holiday depression can happen at any age, but seniors are especially prone to it if they have suffered serious physical challenges, lost a loved one, or lost their social network.
In addition, the cold, dark days of winter mean many elders don’t go outside as much. Ice and snow can make getting anywhere, including medical appointments, difficult. This contributes to feelings of isolation and sadness.
At all Eventide campuses, staff regularly screen residents to make sure depression doesn’t go unnoticed, Sjaaheim says. If residents are struggling in the wintertime, staff may recommend the use of a Sad light or aromatherapy. Residents will be encouraged to meet with a chaplain and to participate in appropriate exercise. If necessary, medication may be prescribed.
“We look at how we can help our residents cope with where they’re at,” Sjaaheim says.
At times that is as simple as offering a listening ear.
“Some of our residents just want to be heard,” Sjaaheim says. “They want to know it’s okay to feel sad. And, it is.”
Over the holiday season, Eventide campuses host resident Christmas parties and encourage residents to participate in traditions like decorating, baking cookies and watching favorite seasonal movies.
At Eventide Fargo, gifts are purchased so that every resident receives something personalized – even if they don’t have family and friends nearby. Thanks to suggestions from the resident council, Eventide Fargo even serves holiday meals family-style, bringing warmth to special holidays.
“We make things feel as cozy as possible,” Sjaaheim says.
Family and friends also can help loved ones in a senior community adjust to changing realities.
If possible, invite your loved one to participate in as many holiday activities as possible. Send cards and letters.
If he or she can’t leave an assisted living or long-term care residence, you can help make the holidays more joyful. Attend holiday activities and parties at their residence. Join them for a holiday meal.
Be sure to bring them something that symbolizes a favorite holiday tradition. For example, if your family always makes lefse, bring a plate of the special treat. If your family tradition is belting out Christmas carols, spend time singing together.
Above all, don’t feel guilty or bad if your loved one doesn’t embrace your efforts with enthusiasm, Sjaaheim says. Visits from family and friends can be another reminder that things have changed, that old family Christmas traditions will be no longer. That said, don’t stop visiting.
“Enjoy the time you have together,” Sjaaheim says and then offers good advice for everyone during the holidays: “Don’t stress too much.”