Holiday songs tell us this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for many older adults, the holidays can trigger anxiety or a sense of feeling down and depressed.
Paul Schneider, DO, and medical director of the Geriatric Behavioral Unit at Medical City North Hills, is reminding the community that the holiday season can be stressful for anyone, but older adults are often more susceptible to depression.
“Seniors can have a feeling of isolation, especially if they’ve experienced the loss of a spouse or don’t have many visitors,” Schneider says. “Older adults can sometimes go long periods of time without visitors or friendly conversation.”
The holidays can also be a time of emotional reflection as older adults reminisce about favorite holiday experiences or struggle with regret about past holiday happenings.
Schneider says the anxiety felt by older adults can be compounded by the expectation that they are supposed to feel joyful.
“It’s hard to put on a false front,” he says, which makes the season even more stressful. “They feel like they need to be excited and inside, they are hurting.”
The symptoms of depression are often worse before and during the holidays, says Schneider, adding that it’s important to reassure those affected that it’s OK to get professional help.
In an inpatient setting such as the Geriatric Behavioral Unit at Medical City North Hills, patients are able to socialize with peers in the unit that may be experiencing similar stressors.
That socialization alone may help, though Schneider says medications may offer additional aid in episodic care or as part of an ongoing therapeutic plan.
Signs that may hint at depression:
- Decreased socialization, such as isolating at home, or decreased involvement with family or community (decreased attendance at church, for example.)
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Decreasing desire to attend to daily functions like bathing or cleaning the residence
- Suicidal statements or behaviors
Should you notice any of these signs, Schneider suggests these potential actions:
If symptoms are mild:
- Visit more often; let the senior know that you are willing to help and listen
- Offer to help with cleaning or shopping (Many seniors are on a fixed income and can become more stressed due to feeling the need to purchase gifts or plan a large family gathering.)
- Offer to transport the senior to holiday themed events (such as church services or senior community centers)
- Reach out to community partners, such as the church or senior center, to find out if they have holiday care packages that can be distributed to homebound seniors
If symptoms are serious (suicidal statements or drastic changes in physical health):
- Seek medical attention
- Call 911 if the person is an immediate danger to themselves or others and refuses to seek appropriate help
More information on the inpatient unit and a video on this topic is available at: http://northhillshospital.com/service/geriatric-behavioral-unit.