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How to Help Seniors Handle the Holiday Blues

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Holidays are for making new memories and fondly remembering others. But as we age and loved ones pass or move away, memories that once brought joy may now bring sadness.

Laverne Jones, an advanced practitioner registered nurse (APRN) with Lee Physician Group, Lee Memory Care, discusses how seniors who are vulnerable to depression during the holidays can cope.

More than 12 million Americans over age 65 live alone, according to the American Psychological Association. This year, unlike others in recent memory, has burdened everyone, especially seniors who are already stressed by prolonged isolation due to the pandemic and facing the risks of illness and even death from possible infection from COVID-19.

“Many seniors in our community who are practicing social distancing due to COVID-19 may not see their family during the holidays, which can lead to feelings of sadness and depression,” Jones says. “It may help to recognize that this holiday will be different from past ones, and that new ones can be created instead.

“Find new ways of celebrating virtually, such as with video chat and emailing. Although you won’t physically be together with loved ones, you’ll still see and hear them in real-time.”

Stay connected with family, friends, and loved ones often, she says.

Acknowledge your feelings

Feelings of sadness and grief are normal and appropriate. And it’s okay to feel them, Jones says.

“Expressing our feelings when we’re sad can give us some relief,” she says. “If you’re grieving the loss of someone this holiday season, know that you’re going to have waves of sadness about missing them. One day you might feel sad and maybe the next day, you won’t. It’s important to feel your feelings, whenever you have them. It’s healthy.”

Also, Jones adds, it’s okay to be human, meaning that you’re not going to be perfect during this holiday season or at any other time of the year.

“Don’t feel bad about not meeting unrealistic expectations of yourself. We want things to go perfectly during the holidays. It’s understandable but not realistic. For example, don’t feel bad that you don’t or can’t remember someone’s name. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t remember your name.’ You don’t have to be perfect.”

Reach out to someone

If you’re feeling alone and depressed, reach out to friends and family. Jones says that connecting with others is one of the best ways to relieve depression and loneliness. By focusing our attention on helping others in need, we often forget our own troubles and we lift our own moods.

If you know of someone who is depressed, you can be available for them as a sympathetic ear or maybe help with daily tasks that may seem overwhelming to them. We’ve all been there.

“Just knowing that we have someone we can lean on can help us feel better,” Jones says.

“There are many community resources that you can volunteer with safely during the pandemic,” Jones says. “Maybe you can cheer someone up by cooking a meal and dropping it off for someone staying at a shelter or a senior living community. If you already virtually connect with friends and family, maybe you can also do that with someone who’s lonely and knows how to use the technology.”

Pamper yourself

Above all, Jones says, be nice to yourself. Treat yourself as you treat others, with kindness and patience and understanding.

“Do what you want to do, but treat yourself kindly while doing it,” Jones says. “That includes staying with your wellness routines, connecting with others, getting a good night’s rest, and keeping your healthy habits. These can all keep depression away.”

By tweaking how you do things this season and seeking the company of others, the holidays can still be a time of renewal and joy.

“Every day should be treated as a holiday,” Jones says. “Treat every day as a special one. You don’t have to wait for the holidays to start.”

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