The holiday season offers many opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends. If you are a caregiver or family member of an aging loved one, you may observe a change in their mood or behavior during the holidays. This change may be unusual signs of fatigue or sadness or perhaps limited interest in the holiday season.
The holiday season can intensify feelings of sadness which aging seniors often experience. It is usually not the holiday itself, rather the fact that the holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, perhaps happier times.
These sad or depressed feelings during the holidays have a name . . . Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. According to the publication, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, SAD is classified as a recurrent major depressive disorder that has a seasonal pattern and occurs only during a specific time of the year. The disorder then goes into full remission thereafter.
What Causes Depression in the Elderly?
Depression can be caused by a minor or serious medical problem; chronic pain or complications of an illness; memory loss; poor diet; loss of a spouse, close friend or companion; a move to a care community; lack of exercise; change in routine or even general frustrations with aging. Symptoms to look for include:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Feelings of worthlessness or sadness
- Expressions of helplessness
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Lack of attention to personal care and hygiene
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irresponsible behavior
- Obsessive thoughts about death and suicide
How do you know if your loved one is dealing with depression or dementia?
Depression and dementia share similar symptoms. In depression, there is a rapid mental decline, but memory of time, date and awareness of the environment remains. Motor skills are slow, but normal in depression.
Symptoms of dementia include a slow mental decline with confusion and loss of recognizing familiar locations. Writing, speaking and motor skills are impaired and memory loss is not acknowledged as a being problem by the person suffering dementia.
Whether it is depression or dementia, prompt treatment is recommended. A physical exam can help determine if there is a medical cause for depression.
Treating depression in older people
Treatment may be as simple as relieving loneliness through visitations, outings and involvement in family activities. In more severe cases antidepressant drugs have been known to improve the quality of life in depressed elderly people. Cognitive therapy sessions with a counselor may also be effective.
How can you help an elderly loved one during the holidays?
As a caregiver or family member of a depressed older person, it is important that you get involved. The elderly person generally denies any problems which can make it that much harder to know if the elder person is having any issues. You can help the elder person feel the magic of the season and feel loved by including them in general activities such as:
- Making holiday cookies
- Church Activities
- Holiday Parties
- Gift Wrapping
- Christmas Lighting
- Gift Making
- Share in Exercising
And most of all whether it is cold or warm outside, sunshine and fresh air is good for the soul, it also helps with Vitamin D.