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Supporting Seniors with Depression During the Holidays
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on December 11th, 2019

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Supporting Seniors with Depression During the Holidays

alzheimer's care  |  senior living homes  |  assisted living expenses  |  depression  |  dependent senior living  |  Retirement home

For lots of us, the holidays are a time of immense joy and excitement. From the sounds of spirited carols to the smells and sights of longstanding holiday traditions, there’s much to celebrate during this special season. 


But for many seniors, the holidays can bring on a sense of loss, pain and even depression. This time can be a difficult reminder of how an aging loved one’s life has changed in many distressing ways. This is especially true after losing a spouse or other relative or having recently experienced a loss of independence. What used to be a cheerful time for some seniors can ultimately become a source of sadness and negatively impact their overall mental health.  


While a certain amount of “feeling blue” is both normal and expected, it’s important to be aware of the signs that something more severe and unhealthy is occurring with your aging loved one. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that older adults are at increased risk of experiencing depression, particularly those who suffer from chronic health conditions, and that seniors are often misdiagnosed and undertreated for their symptoms. 


As the holidays come into full swing, there are steps you can take to support the seniors in your life who may be experiencing mental and emotional challenges. It all starts with understanding how depression works, what treatment options are available and what your aging loved one needs during this time. 


Critical Factors Impacting Depression in Seniors


Understand that there is no single definitive answer to what exactly causes depression in older adults. Ultimately, depression is a complex, multifaceted disease. 


Many doctors and scientists believe that some people are prone to depression as a result of their biological makeup. When this genetic predisposition is triggered by traumatic events (like the loss of a spouse, a major shift in independence or another life crisis), the illness can present itself in daily life. 


Here are some of the most influential factors that can increase the risk of depression in your aging loved one:


  • Stressful experiences (divorce, chronic pain, physical amputation, passing of a spouse or loved one, etc.)
  • Lack of a supportive social network
  • Relocation of residence
  • Gender (statistics show a higher risk for females than males)


Fortunately, clinical depression is treatable. Some of the most effective therapies include options like antidepressants, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or any combination of these. 


How to Help Your Aging Loved One


It’s easy for family and friends to overlook depression in their aging loved one, regarding it as a natural part of aging, a necessary stage of grief or a side effect of active medications. But when red flags are ignored and the illness goes untreated, it can cause major, even life-threatening issues for seniors. Depression in the elderly is associated with an increased risk of cardiac diseases, death and suicide, and it can significantly impact a senior’s ability to rehabilitate after an illness or injury.


If a senior in your life is showing signs of depression during the holidays (or any time of the year), it’s essential to be proactive. The best action you can take is to seek help from a physician or qualified mental health professional.


Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to watch out for: 


  • Lack or excess of sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Demanding (change in) behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Delusions


Clinical depression lasts longer than a few days of “the blues” and can continue for many weeks or months at a time. For seniors suffering from deep depression, the disease may eventually spiral to a depth at which treatment is no longer effective, which is why it’s so important to act early and quickly when you notice any related symptoms.


Additional steps you can take to support a senior suffering from depression include:


Promoting Exercise: Exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins, which can help lessen feelings of depression. It often enables seniors to redirect their negative thoughts, develop greater motivation and engagement, improve their strength and mobility, increase their mental capacity and speed up personal healing or recovery.


Encouraging Socialization: A thriving social life can provide your aging loved one with friendships, accountability and a greater capacity to prevent or overcome the effects of depression. Particularly during the holidays, social engagement is an effective way for seniors to find meaning, purpose and satisfaction. 


Being Present and Connected: While the holidays can bring families together, they can also make aging loved ones feel disconnected. That’s why it’s critical to be present in your senior’s life during seasonal celebrations and throughout the year. Invite them to reflect on their childhood traditions, revisit old family photos together, arrange for time spent with grandchildren or other kids in their life, help them decorate their living space and provide them with opportunities to shop for or select holiday gifts.


The Benefits of Social Interaction and Community Life


Another valuable way to support an aging loved one with depression is to investigate the option of joining a senior living community. One of the many benefits is the sense of belonging and friendship that residents experience. 


Whereas living in isolation does very little to prevent depression and can even contribute to its severity, the community environment of an assisted or independent living option provides daily opportunities for socialization, education, exercise and physical activity, recreation and relationships. 

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This lifestyle encourages seniors to enjoy life. It provides the platform for companionship, support and connections that are vital to preventing and overcoming depression.


For more information and a firsthand look at how you can support an aging loved one with a potential transition to a senior living community, schedule your visit now

About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.