Depression in Seniors Around the Holidays


Depression in Seniors Around the Holidays

The last six weeks of the year are tumultuous and exciting times: Gifts are wrapped, wine is poured, and carols are sung. In the cheerful chaos, it's easy to overlook seniors who may be looking at life through a dark and cloudy lens. Depression among seniors surges around the holidays for many reasons: A sense that the best of life has passed, lack of companionship, poor health, meager financial resources, and alienation from society are a few of them. If you see changes in a parent or other person you care for, it's vital to learn how to help.

If your parent is generally a positive person, you might assume that depression isn't a concern. However, the late phases of life can incubate fears and anxieties that weren't present before. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), warning signs of depression include the following:

  • Disinterest in hobbies
  • References to suicide
  • Fatigue
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping

The NIMH says also that some seniors are at risk for vascular depression, a hardening of the blood vessels that lowers the brain's oxygen level. This physiologic form of depression can affect moods and lead to strokes and heart disease.

No one can stop time, but you can try to stop depression before it consumes the seniors you care about. James L. Brooks, Associate State Director of AARP Virginia, advises caretakers to combat sinking moods with these strategies: Once you see signs of depression in your parents around the holidays or any other time, encourage a doctor's visit. Antidepressants and other medications might help. And don't forget alternative therapies like counseling, pets, massage, and trips to the seaside or other beautiful locations.

1. Be Optimistic

Avoid conversations about long-term care, wills, possessions and other serious matters. Just because the family has gathered together doesn't mean you have to put your parent under pressure to answer difficult questions. Ask your siblings and children to do the same.

2. Remember Traditions

Did your mom always hang mistletoe from the arched doorway in the dining room? Did your dad always watch "A Christmas Carol" with a glass of eggnog? If your parents have fading memories, helping them continue the traditions they created and loved will boost their spirits.

3. Be Flexible

Attack the rules and restrictions that oppress the older members of your flock. Maybe you want to make the gravy for the turkey, but your mom insists her recipe is better. Let her make it while you watch. If your dad wants to hold the baby but is too frail, set up a space where it can happen.

4. Capture Time

Help your parent focus on what's good about life by taking pictures, conducting oral history,

and sharing cherished stories with your children. Composing a record of the past might help your parent reflect on the highlights of the life he or she built.

5. Remember Yourself

Monitoring an aging parent is a challenge in many ways. Spend time reflecting and establishing boundaries to keep your own mental health in place. Take breaks and identify resources that can lighten the load. Many community organizations sponsor bus trips, yoga classes, and volunteer networks who work with older populations.

If some of your efforts fail, keep on trying. Your participation likely goes a long way and might be appreciated in ways you don't see or understand. Even the small things you do to steer your parent toward the positive might be working in subtle ways. As Scrooge himself said, "if the courses be departed from, the ends will change."


National Institute of Mental Health. "How do older adults experience depression?"

Brooks, James L. "Ten Tips for Caregivers to Cope with Stress at the Holidays." AARP Magazine. November 4, 2015.

Levington, Suzanne A. "Depression is often underrated in seniors." The Washington Post. December 8, 2014.