Tips for Caregivers during the Holidays: How to Help Seniors Cope

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According to the research team of Randy and Lori Sansone, incidences of worsened moods increase during the holidays all across the United States each year. Depression can result from imagining that others are having warm, wonderful family times and that only the depressed person has problematic family relationships or is alone.

Holiday mood changes can, of course, also affect seniors. Typically, the holidays themselves are not what bring them down, but memories of happier times now past or the empty places at a once full table signify the losses of spouses, parents, or other loved ones over the years.

If you are a caregiver for a senior experiencing mood changes during the holiday season, you may notice in your charge certain signs and symptoms of depression, such as fatigue or sadness. Serious symptoms may include obsessing about death or suicide and expressing feelings of being out of control, being unable to focus, and feeling useless.

During an otherwise happy season, you may find yourself concerned over the general health of the one…

These symptoms can make a stressful time even more worrisome, as depression often comes with physical symptoms, significantly impacting the wellbeing of those who experience it. During an otherwise happy season, you may find yourself concerned over the general health of the one for whom you care as things like listlessness, sleeplessness, and even weight loss occur in your loved one.

There is hope, though. Engaging in social activities that celebrate the holidays may help, such as cookie making, volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, crafting decorations or small gifts (this is especially good as an activity between younger children and seniors), cooking meals, vacationing to new and interesting places, and event planning.

Listen sympathetically to the elderly one’s feelings and find activities which bring him or her joy at other times of the year and engage in these as well. These can be logistical hassles, however, and do not offer long term solutions. It is wise to speak with a doctor about getting your loved one evaluated by a mental healthcare expert and creating a plan if symptoms of depression seem to be present.

Don’t forget the importance and health-giving benefits of religion at these important times of the year. Many holidays are religiously-based, and researchers Idler and Kasl did a study of elderly people which showed that religious practice protected both men and women against depression, disability, and even death in the month leading up to religious holidays they observed. Community, meaning, ritual, and social contacts were seen as factors that boosted seniors’ overall wellbeing, including and especially around the time of religious holidays. 

Researchers Idler and Kasl did a study of elderly people which showed that religious practice protected both men and women against depression, disability, and even death in the month leading up to religious holidays they observed.

Yet what if the person feeling seasonal depression around the holidays isn’t the senior for which you care, but is you, the caregiver? Caring for an elderly person, especially those experiencing extreme physical limitations or dementia, is an exhausting, difficult job, but pulling yourself out of depression is near-Herculean an effort when handling so much responsibility.

The key is to realize that no holiday is perfect…

Carol Bradley Bursack of ElderCareLink.com argues that some of this depression in caregivers comes from the pressure to create the “perfect” holiday for others, which heightens any small disturbance or small obstacle into a mountain of stress and anxiety. This increases the sadness you may feel at every turn, since nothing appears to be turning out how you would like. The key is to realize that no holiday is perfect, and that everyone is stressed from travel, excessive social time, and familial obligations. The presence of younger generations can also impact this pressure, as many caregivers are the middle generation between older seniors and younger children, two groups that often find themselves at odds. We have all heard stories of the young, rebellious teenager coming to holiday dinners with a nose piercing or the college student expressing more radical political views, which may clash with a grandparent’s view of how the world ought to work. A fight ensues, and dinner becomes an uncomfortable affair.

The key is to realize that no holiday is perfect, and that everyone is stressed from travel, excessive social time, and familial obligations.

Realize that you cannot control every single event or outcome. You can only do what you do best—care for your loved one to the best of your ability, and ask for others to do the same around the holidays.

Hopefully, you can seek out friends and family that will be more able to help during the holidays—visiting aunts to keep the elder company while you do the shopping, cousins that can take your loved one to see a play while you catch up on time with your spouse and children, etc. Seeking out that help and getting it may help relieve stress and get you through the hard parts of the holidays.

The first step to dealing with depression is getting a health care professional involved. If it is you who needs the mental lift, get a proper diagnosis and put together a healthcare plan to start the process of keeping you healthy. This process may seem unimportant compared to other priorities during the holidays, but it is absolutely necessary. After all, you cannot care for others if you are unwilling or unable to care for yourself.

 

Sources

Bursak, Carol Bradley. 10 Tips for coping with caregiving blues during the holidays. ElderCarelink. Available at http://www.eldercarelink.com/Other-Resources/Caregiving-Support/10-tips-for-coping-with-caregiving-blues-during-holidays.htm. Retrieved 1/18/2016.

HelpGuide.org. Helping a Depressed Person. Available at http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-a-depressed-person.htm. Retrieved 1/18/2016.

Idler, E.L., Kasl, S. V., (1992). Religion, Disability, Depression, and the Timing of Death. American Journal of Sociology (97):1052-1079. University of Chicago Press. Abstract available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2781506?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Retrieved 1/18/2016.

LongTermCareLink.net, “Holiday Blues—Depression among the Elderly.” https://www.longtermcarelink.net/article-2013-11-11.htm

Sansone, Randy A., and Lori A. Sansone, (2011). The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience (12):10-13. Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257984/. Retrieved 1/18/2016.