Holiday Blues and Older Adults
Recently I had an interesting discussion with Kenny Coggins of Coggins Funeral Home in Thomaston, Georgia. I was curious about the timing of deaths of older adults. He informed me that they see more deaths between November and April involving this population.
He felt that more elderly die during the holidays, namely Thanksgiving and Christmas extending into April. Kenny feels that this population although already more vulnerable become even more so during these time frames.
Some reasons for this are that many of them live alone or in nursing homes and see family members infrequently if at all. Some only see their significant others at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
As a result of this many become more and more depressed and feel they just can not wait another Christmas to see their loved ones.
This brief vignette will help to see what is happening at alarming rates to this segment of our population.
A couple has raised 5 children. These children now are all grown and married with their own children and are living in different places across the country. For a while these children sees their parents several times year. As the grandchildren come along and then begin school it becomes more difficult for the children to make those trips to see their parents. Slowly the visits become less and less frequent with Christmas and Thanksgiving becoming the primary time they occur.
The older adults as expected start having health problems more often and soon some serious ones develop. While the health of these older adults start failing, they have already been affected to some degree by some depression but not necessarily what we would call clinical depression. This might have been caused by the inability to see their children and grandchildren as much as they would like.
Suddenly one of these older adults sees a serious health problem that begins a downward spiral perhaps ending in death. The parent left behind not only has grief to deal with of their mate leaving them but also not having their children close by to help them many times with the grieving process. So they become more depressed.
Sometimes the surviving parent has to be placed in a nursing home. They have little socialization and of course their children are unable to visit them on any type of regular basis because of geography. So they become cut off from the ones that love them most.
So as you can see, when Thanksgiving or Christmas arrives although they are very happy to see their children and grandkids, many times after the visits are over, they tend to become more depressed and as Kenny said they might even give up because they think they can’t wait another year to seen those that they love the most. And to complicate things even more with their body resistances already being low, these are the cold and flu seasons and they take their tolls.
Some other issues that affect these older adults according to the Geriatric Health Foundation are:
a) Financial limitations
b) Loss of independence
c) Being alone or separated from loved ones
d) Failing eyesight
e) Loss of mobility
f) Failing health issues
Other issues to look for in older adults that involve depression are:
1) Persistent sadness
2) Withdrawal from normal activities
3) Slowed responses
4) Lack of energy
5) Crying spells
6) Feelings of worthlessness
8) Sleep problems
9) Staring into space
10) Not eating
11) Poor hygiene
12) Unable to concentrate
What can we do to help with the holiday blues in older adults? My daughter, Karen, who is a PhD Clinical Psychologist, reminded me that if we think these older adults are depressed, we should get them an appointment with a medical doctor first as depression in this population sometimes is connected to medical issues. If that is not the case, we should obtain an appointment for them with a Psychiatrist or therapist. If the Psychiatrist does not provide talk therapy with medications prescribed ask for a referral to a Psychologist or other mental health professional that can provide these services.
What can we do as children of these parents? We can be more aware of the importance of visits. If we live in the same town with our parents, we should call them at least a couple of times a week if not more. We should visit at least weekly. We might bring them to our house and go to them. We can also have overnights where we spend with them or them with us.
If we live out of town and the distance is too far for a drive, we should call them several times a week. We should visit them quarterly if possible. If they have email, this would be one way to stay in daily contact with them. We should have a neighbor of our parents that we can contact in order to get an idea from someone besides our parents how they are doing.
There is no substitute for physical visits. We all as humans need contact with people particularly those close to us. We should also remember that they need touch and hugs. We must not forget that we all need human physical contact. And when we can not provide those visits because of jobs and obligations, we might want to consider flying our parents to see us or having our grandkids go and spend some time with grandma and grandpa.
These steps mentioned above will go a long way to help combat holiday blues and depression in those that we love so dearly.
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