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Dear Savvy Senior,
Over the past few years my mother, who is 75, has gotten where she dreads the holiday season and becomes very melancholy. What can I do to help?
Hating the Holidays
Millions of people experience the holiday blues this time of year, but seniors tend to be especially vulnerable. Here are some suggestions that can help.
There are lots of factors that can contribute to an older person’s sadness or apathy around the holiday season such as the loss of a spouse, sibling or a close friend. Some seniors feel alone and isolated because their grown children and grandchildren live far away. While others may feel blue because of financial concerns, poor health or because they’re unable to perform routine holiday activities like shopping, baking or even attending religious services.
How to Help
Depending on what’s making your mother blue during this holiday season, here are some tips that may help:
• Be a good listener: Talk to your mom about how she’s feeling and why. Very often just being able to share feelings with someone can help.
• Prevent isolation: Encourage family members to be around your mom as much as possible during the holidays. If you can’t be there physically, be sure to call more often.
• Find community help: Contact her church or other community resource where someone may be able to stop by for a visit, or pick her up for a religious service or community activity.
• Ease her financial guilt: If your mom is on a tight budget, be sure she doesn’t feel guilty if she can’t afford to buy the grandchildren fancy gifts. It’s not what the holidays should be about.
• Lend a helping hand: If poor health or physical limitations are causing her blues lend her a hand with shopping, decorating and other holiday preparations.
• Suggest volunteering: Many churches or civic groups would love her help (also see websites like www.volunteermatch.org and www.getinvolved.gov to find volunteer opportunities). Helping others is a great way to forget your own troubles.
• Watch the holiday spirits: Alcohol consumption for many people goes up during the holiday season, and alcohol is a depressant that can intensify the problem.
• Go for a walk: Exercise is a natural antidepressant so encourage your mom to go for a daily walk, or if possible, take one with her.
Watch for Depression
There’s a big difference between feeling sad or blue and being chronically depressed. If your mom’s blues linger beyond the holidays into the New Year, she may have a more serious problem. Here are the signs to watch for:
• A persistent feeling of sadness.
• Lost interest in hobbies or activities that she formerly enjoyed.
• Feeling worthless or hopeless.
• Inability to sleep or sleeping too much.
• Loss of energy or motivation.
• Not eating or eating too much.
• Trouble thinking, concentrating, and making decisions.
• Feeling anxious, restless, or irritable.
• Thinking about dying or killing herself.
Another good way you can check your mom’s mood is by giving her a depression screening test at www.depressionscreening.org. If you find that she’s depressed, encourage her to get help beginning with her own doctor. There are a variety of treatment options that can help such as medications, professional counseling or a combination of both.
Savvy Tips: The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry provides a variety of helpful publications on senior depression including “Coping with Depression and the Holidays.” To order your free copies, visit www.aagponline.org or call 301-654-7850 ext. 100. Also see www.positiveaging.org.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
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