December is a time for good food, friends and family, and sharing the holiday spirit.  There is great expectation that the holidays are a time to enjoy these things.  Unfortunately, there can be feelings of unhappiness, isolation and anxiety during this “joyous” season as well. The elderly, in particular, can be vulnerable to feeling the blues. 

Older adults can experience depression resulting from chronic pain, change in routine, and complication of illnesses, but holidays can also heighten feelings of sadness and loss.   It is inevitable that one ages, loss of a spouse, friends and siblings are an increasing reality.

In thinking about the older adults in your life, consider the transitions they may have experienced in the last year. Have they lost a loved one? Perhaps they are aging in their home, but have seen significant turnover in their neighborhood and no longer feel connected. They may be dealing with the transition to a facility and with it a new living environment.  Any of these events could leave the older adult with feelings of isolation and loneliness.

In this season of giving, give some thought to slowing down and finding time to acknowledge elders.  Below are some tips to help lift a loved one’s spirit and bring some joy to those with the holiday blues:

  • Make it your responsibility to engage them.  Include your friend or family member in baking cookies or decorating their home, or help with gift wrapping.  It may take you longer during a hectic season, but think of the emotional value.  Put music on and sing songs together. Music has an incredible ability to soothe and lift mood.
  • Good conversation.  Remind the older adult how important they are. Do not be afraid to ask about their own family traditions or ask questions about their most memorable holiday experience.  The greatest gift you can give is your time and attention.
  • Validate loss and grief.  Ask everyone to go around the room and name something they miss or love about those who have passed.  This can bring peace to a grieving widow or widower to keep a spouse’s memory alive and teach the younger generation to honor those passed.
  • Personal Care. Bring your older adult for a haircut, shave, manicure, pedicure with a foot massage.  No matter the age, we all feel better when we look better.  The physical exercise it requires to get out of the house is an added bonus.
  • Check in with a local parish or community center for volunteer opportunities. Houses of worship are filled with holiday activities that need volunteers. Helping others can make us all feel good and provides a sense of belonging.