Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Give Holiday Cheer

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The holidays can be a joyous time of gathering with friends and family. However, some older adults struggle with loneliness and depression at this time of year.  

People of any age who have limited income, limited mobility or the loss of a loved one  can struggle to maintain the traditions of the season.  

These limits and losses are often more prevalent for older adults, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, regret or depression unless addressed.  

Also some diseases, some medications can push people further into depression.  And excessive alcohol consumption compounds the problem.  

If you see signs of depression in a loved one at any time of the year, encourage him or her to seek the help of a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist.  These signs might include the following:

  • weight loss or weight gain
  • sleep disorder
  • social isolation
  • increase complaints about aches and pains
  • slowed speech, slowed movement, or loss of energy
  • slowing cognition, memory lapses, forgetfulness  
  • feelings of despair, hopelessness, apathy, irritability or anger
  • neglect of personal needs such as dressing, grooming, bathing

If your loved one is in a major depressive episode--which actually can be conveyed with subtle signals--you need to refer to a professional. However, between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, many people of all ages might experience a minor slump, often termed the Holiday Blues that they can address themselves or with the help of friends or family members. 

Here are strategies that help. 
  1. Social Engagement. People who have connections with friends, family or colleagues not only have better mental health, they also have an increase in physical health as well.  Does the older adult have regular visitors? Do they volunteer or work part-time?  Do they attend worship services? Do they talk to their neighbors? 
  2. Good Care of the Body. Aging often requires more time and attention to the body, and it can be easy to neglect these needs. However, neglecting diet, exercise, sleep or proper doses of medication can have consequences to mind and spirit as well as to the body. Does the older adult eat regular, balanced meals? Do they exercise? (Note: adaptations allow practically everyone to exercise.) Are they getting adequate sleep? Are they taking medications as prescribed?
  3. Reminiscing about Good Times. Talking about life successes can help lift a person's mood. Can you bring in photo albums from prior decades? Or share clips from much loved movies, songs, or television shows?  Tablets are a great way to help older adults reminisce. 
  4. Focusing on the Positive.  While life might present some real challenges that need to be addressed, there are also many positive aspects.  A new branch of psychology called "Positive Psychology" is dedicated to finding evidenced-base data on the power of positive thinking. 

Senior Care Corner provides a list of 10 Strategies for Making the Most of Our Family Holidays with Seniors, which is tailored to older adults of more advanced age.

While many might worry about older adults, some research show that younger people actually experience unhappiness at a higher rate than older adults.  Why? One hypothesis is that experience makes people more emotionally resilient.  

So a smart strategy might be to use some of your time during the holidays to ask an older adult how they manage life challenges.  

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