The holidays are typically a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate about the past and plan for the future. However, the holidays can be a difficult time especially for the elderly. Older adults may yearn for loved ones who have passed away, such as spouses, siblings and friends, or the distance of family may be felt more often during the holidays. The traditional gatherings that were observed in the past may not be possible and the holidays may prove more trying and seem devoid of meaning.
Family and friends may notice that their elderly family members are feeling reflective and sad with such losses and changes and believe they are just experiencing some simple sadness. However, what they may have thought was a case of the “blues”, could actually be a sign of depression.
Red flags to look for during holiday visits:
- Sadness and fatigue
- Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of self-worth
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts
It may be difficult to recognize depression in older individuals because they may have a hard time expressing how they feel or they may fear being labeled as “difficult”. Families and friends may think that a change in temperament or behavior is simply “a passing mood,” and that the person will just “snap out of it.” Unfortunately, a person suffering from depression cannot just “get over it.” Depression is a medical illness that should be diagnosed and treated by trained professionals. Left untreated, depression may last months or even years.
What can family, friends and caregivers do to help?
Open communication is the simple answer to voice one’s concerns. Offer to call the individual’s doctor and accompany the senior to an appointment. A conversation with the senior’s clergy can also facilitate referral to a mental health professional. Do not ask the older person to follow through without giving your support. Assistance should comprise of a network that includes support from both family and outside sources.