The winter holiday season (and the colder months which accompany it) can intensify feelings of sadness which aging seniors often experience. Most often it is not the holiday itself that cause these types of emotions among the elderly, rather the fact that the holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, perhaps happier times.

If you believe that your parent, spouse, friend or neighbor may be depressed, there are steps that you can take to help lift their spirits. You are probably busy with your own holiday preparations, but it’s important to remember what the holiday season is truly about. Simplifying some of your plans will allow you to focus on what really matters: the important people in your life. Use these ideas to brighten up a loved one’s winter season.

Social isolation is more than just the holiday blues; seniors who are not engaged with their communities can suffer physically.  Studies have found that older adults who do not feel they are valued members of society can slip into depression, withdrawing from others and failing to eat or sleep properly, get regular exercise or keep doctor appointments.  Social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of mortality in older adults and may lead to a quicker cognitive decline in some seniors.

If you’re caring for an elderly person and find that he or she seems a little blue as the holidays approach, here are a few tips you can use to help them overcome these feelings and enjoy the festive season.

Many seniors face loneliness. Even if family members live in the same city, adult children often become so busy with their own lives and social obligations that they fail to recognize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to spending time with them during the holidays.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, is a form of depression that affects a person during the same season each year. For example, if you get depressed each winter, you may have SAD. It seems to be the most common amongst women, people who have a close relative previously diagnosed with SAD, or people who live in areas where winter days are very short or there are big changes in the amount of daylight during different seasons.

With all of these hazards ahead in this upcoming season, it’s important that caregivers for their elderly loved ones prepare ahead of time. Taking precautions during the fall will alleviate stress, reduce risks of depression and allow our loved ones to enjoy this season and all it’s festivities to the fullest.

Caregivers may notice a sudden change in mood, appetite, or energy level in their loved one, other symptoms may involve, sadness, sleep disturbances or lethargy.  The key in assessing for SAD is to tune into sudden changes that seem to revolve around the cold, dark months of winter.  Of course, any symptoms of depression should be reported to the physician regardless of the season.  

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Rates of caregiving vary somewhat by ethnicity. For example, among the U.S. adult population, approximately one-fifth of both the non-Hispanic White and African-American populations are providing care to a Asian caregiverloved one, while a slightly lower percentage of Asian-Americans — 18 percent — and Hispanic Americans — 16 percent — are engaged in caregiving.

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