The holidays are upon us, and this time of year often conjures images of twinkling Christmas lights, presents around the tree, and gatherings with family and friends. But in reality, for many in our elderly population, this time unfortunately doesn't bring joy or happiness, but quite the opposite.
"The holiday season especially can be lonely for seniors as family memories surface," said Brenda Hill, Senior Living Consultant at Red Rock Pointe Retirement Community. "Extended family is busier than ever. Add to that: job restrictions, family obligations, and finances. All of which can keep families from traveling to see loved ones. Guilt also often plays a role in keeping family from reaching out, but it shouldn't".
Red Rock Pointe Retirement Community, located in the heart of Summerlin, offers an all-inclusive resort-style living to residents 55 and over. With amenities like meals, housekeeping, transportation, and a very robust activities calendar. At this facility, residents take part in things like daily fitness classes, live music educational seminars, bingo, and card games.
"Communities like ours go a long way to helping seniors stay active and social, keeping loneliness and depression at bay," said Hill. "If you feel like your loved ones need professional help, don't hesitate to reach out for more support, as depression can lead to things like forgetting medications and a poor diet."
Hill suggests that if families can't make it to visit grandma or grandpa for the holidays, make a conscious plan to visit them another time of year so they have something to look forward to. She also said that with many of her residents, she has seen how technology like Zoom and FaceTime is a wonderful way to stay in touch not just during the holidays but year-round.
"If all else fails, old-fashioned letters or cards with a note or a picture drawn by your little ones are precious keepsakes for your family and are a great way to send love and well wishes during the holiday season," said Hill.
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences shows that a quarter of adults 65 and over are considered socially isolated, and a "significant portion" of older adults in the U.S. report feeling lonely. According to Dr. Tiffany Smith, Founder of Aroma Functional Nutrition Psychiatric LLC, these feelings can be amplified during the holidays.
"The holiday season, while generally a time of joy and togetherness, can pose unique challenges for the older population," said Dr. Smith. "One of the most concerning issues is social isolation. Many seniors may not have family nearby or have lost loved ones, making the holidays a poignant reminder of those absences. This isolation can exacerbate existing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety."
Dr. Smith, whose Las Vegas-based practice specializes in integrative and functional psychiatry, offers a holistic approach to mental health care that's tailored to the unique needs of each individual, including seniors. She said her goal is to empower all her patients, including the elderly, to take control of their well-being. She treats the root cause of mental conditions, not just covering up the symptoms.
Here are some of her tips for battling the holiday blues:
1. Stay Connected: Make an extra effort to include seniors in holiday activities or arrange visits, if possible. A simple phone call or video chat can also make a world of difference.
2. Maintain Routine: Try to help seniors stick to their regular schedule as much as possible, even during the holiday hustle and bustle.
3. Nutritional Care: If you're hosting a holiday meal, consider offering healthier options or a special dish accommodating dietary restrictions.
4. Physical Activity: Encourage light physical activities like a walk after dinner, which can aid digestion and improve mood.
5. Be Observant: Be vigilant for signs that may indicate a need for professional intervention. For example, symptoms of depression can include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, or changes in appetite and sleep patterns.
At the end of the day, Dr. Smith reminds us not to forget the importance of intergenerational connections and the power of community.
"The holidays are when the community can really come together to support our seniors," said Dr. Smith. "And let's not forget the importance of intergenerational connections. Encourage young family members to spend time with their older relatives. It's a beautiful way for both generations to learn from each other and create lasting memories."
"The holiday season, while generally a time of joy and togetherness, can pose unique challenges for the older population," said Dr. Smith. " One of the most concerning issues is social isolation.