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Helping Seniors Deal with Holiday Loneliness

William Mick | Nov 15, 2018 | Caregiver Support

The holidays are a time of joy and laughter, with parties, songs and seemingly nonstop activities. But for seniors, it can be a period of loneliness and longing for bygone times. If you have seniors in your care, make sure you look for signs of holiday sadness and take steps to help them overcome the seasonal blues.

Looking back on joyous times can trigger sadness.

There are many reasons a season devoted to “comfort and joy” can have the opposite effect on older adults. Holidays can bring up memories of earlier happier times, along with remembrances of beloved friends and family who may have passed on due to illness and age. Seniors may be faced with a loss of mobility that has curtailed their ability to interact socially with friends. Homes grow emptier over time; old neighborhoods change in new and unfamiliar ways; and transitions to new surroundings can cause further isolation.

Finally, the forced cheer of the holiday season can aggravate feelings of loneliness and melancholy in those who feel left out of the ritualized merriment. Being reminded of the joys of past seasons can trigger memories of people and times are gone forever, triggering sadness and depression.

According to Psychology Today, “Loneliness predisposes us to depression and increases our risk of Alzheimer's disease, it suppresses our immune system functioning, it stresses our cardiovascular systems, and when chronic, it affects our very longevity.”

If you know someone who may be suffering from the holiday blues, there are steps you can take to make this season a little merrier. Here are a few ideas to help combat loneliness in seniors and possibly improve the health and well-being of older adults in your circle of family and friends.

Talk. And listen.

The holidays are a time to reach out and reconnect, so make visits with seniors a priority. Although face-to-face visits are ideal, phone calls are always welcome, and technology now lets us connect with video tools like Skype and Facetime. Use that opportunity to ask about any sad or negative feelings, and actively listen to identify the reasons behind any emotional struggles.

Strengthen connections.

When people are actively involved in a group, it's harder to sink into feelings of loneliness. Encourage seniors to find group activities over the holiday months, such as seasonal events available through local senior communities. Rekindling an interest in hobbies can also encourage socialization, especially group activities like book clubs and sewing circles. Faith communities can be an important resource for group activities if the person is religious. In these cases, the local church, synagogue or mosque will probably have a calendar of events that will appeal to seniors seeking connections over the holidays.

Adapt traditions. Or begin the ones.

Feeling left out is a common complaint as we age. Holiday traditions like decorating and caroling may be too strenuous and the sheer volume of activities can be overwhelming for someone of advanced years. That's why it's important to design traditions and activities that everyone can take part in. Simplify holiday celebrations and put the focus back on people rather than parties.

Whether the activity is decorating, cooking, singing or simply getting together, make sure elders feel part of the celebration. And if they can't be there to participate, try to bring the celebration to them.

Give the gift of time.

All of these ideas on combating loneliness have one common element --- taking the time to include seniors in holiday plans. Your time may be the most valuable gift you can offer to older adults, whether in conversation or helping them to engage with others during holiday events.

So look for ways to stay active and celebrate together. You'll find any time spent brightening the days of another is something more precious than anything you could wrap up and put under a tree.

References:

https://www.ncoa.org/blog/how-to-fight-loneliness-seniors-this-holiday/

https://www.care.com/c/stories/5707/getting-help-with-the-holiday-blues/

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/elderly-loneliness-during-holidays-148441.htm

https://training.mmlearn.org/blog/how-to-help-the-elderly-in-dealing-with-holiday-loneliness

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