The following article on aging issues appeared in the December 2, 2016 issue of j. – the Jewish news weekly.
JFCS East Bay offers compassionate, professional, reliable, and personalized Home Care services!
How to Lift Mom’s Spirits When She’s Got the Holiday Blues
I am a long-distance caregiver for my 85-year-old mom who lives alone in her home in Walnut Creek. We will be spending the holidays with her. She tends to be more withdrawn and sad during the holiday season. What can I do to help and not feel overwhelmed by all I have to do? — R.T., San Diego
It’s wonderful that you are getting together with your mom during the holiday season, and also good that you recognize that the holidays can bring a mixture of stress, sadness and cheer.
The holiday buildup and excitement driven by the media creates an expectation that all of us must feel jolly, that families get along perfectly, and that we all share the same wonderful holiday traditions.
For many of us, this may not resonate with our reality or our culture. Some of us experience grief and may need some extra support, beginning with Thanksgiving, through Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year.
This can be a challenging time, particularly for seniors who live alone. Loneliness and feelings of isolation may be exacerbated by the holidays. According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 4 Americans report experiencing loneliness specifically during the holiday season.
Among older adults, lack of socialization is a key trigger for loneliness, which can be especially pronounced during the holidays. The inevitable loss of friends and family members are often brought into sharper focus during this time of year, which may lead people to avoid participating in holiday events.
Your first step in helping your mom is to recognize any signs of holiday blues. You may notice unusual signs of fatigue, sadness and possibly lack of interest in participating in the festive season. While blues can be normal, depression is not and will require evaluation and treatment. Some signs of depression to watch for: persistent sadness, hopelessness or feelings of worthlessness, losing interest in things she used to enjoy, sleeping too much or too little, having trouble concentrating, having little energy, noticeable changes in her appetite or weight, and articulation of her thoughts of dying.
If what you are seeing seems contained to a reaction to the holidays and not an indication of ongoing depression, there are many interventions to help your mom feel more included and less lonely. Research has shown that even just once-weekly in-person contact helps adults over the age of 65 feel less lonely. Homebound seniors who have meals delivered to them once a week reported significantly less loneliness than those who did not. Because your visit is time-limited, you may consider arranging for volunteers or friendly visitors to provide companionship for your mom throughout the holiday season.
During your visit, ask your mom to share her favorite stories about past celebrations with friends and families. Going down memory lane and sharing these good memories with you will help her feel more connected to you and bring up happier times.
During this process, you can also acknowledge her losses and provide her with time and space to talk about them. Remind her how important she is to you and your family, and how the traditions and values that she taught you define the tone of your celebrations.
You can also plan fun holiday activities together such as shopping, listening to music, going to a movie, incorporating exercise (walking), cooking or menu planning. These can become new traditions.
And don’t underestimate the power of physical affection. Hugs, holding hands and other physical gestures of affection have the potential to ease her mind. These acts of affection can make your mom feel less isolated, and help reduce her stress and anxiety.
Keep your mom busy and make her feel useful. Include her in plans and invite her to holiday activities. If you’re going to a potluck or inviting friends for dinner, you can help her feel involved by helping prepare some of the meal.
In the midst of the seasonal activities and commotion, you need to take care of yourself too. Carve out some quiet time and see if you can simplify some of the holiday chores while still honoring your traditions. Let go of perfection and enjoy the company of others. Whatever you celebrate, cherish the warmth of the moment as well as your mom’s presence at the festivities of the season. As the Dalai Lama said: “Happiness is not ready made. It comes from our actions.”
Rita Clancy, LCSW, is the Director of Adult Services at Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay. Her columns appear regularly in J.’s Seniors sections. Have questions about your aging parents? Email or call (510) 558-7800, ext. 257.
- Mom Needs a Little-Pick-Me-Up . . . Would a Dog Help? – October 14, 2016
- A Skilled Nursing Facility Is What Your Dad Needs – August 5, 2016
- Why Was Mom Placed Under “Observation” in the ER – June 17, 2016
- Dad Needs Healthy Meals, And Eating Alone Isn’t Helping – April 1, 2016
- How to Gently Help Holocaust Survivors Face the Future – January 29, 2016
- Getting Older Can Enhance Happiness, So Seize the Day – December 18, 2015
- Fraud Alert: You’re the Sweepstakes Grand-Prize Winner! – October 2, 2015
- In-Home Help: How, When, and Why? – August 7, 2015
- Simple Rx for Beleaguered Family Caregiver: Laughter – June 12, 2015
- Long Distance Caregiver Worries About Elder Abuse – April 10, 2015
- Loved One’s Loss Can Trigger “Complicated Grief” – January 30, 2015
- Mom May Have Dewy Body Dementia. What’s That? – December 19, 2014
- Do LGBT Seniors Have Special Caregiving Issues? – October 3, 2014
- With Care and Attention, Many Falls Can Be Prevented – August 29, 2014
- Is My Dad’s Depression Due to His Parkinson’s? – May 30, 2014
- Rx for Loneliness: Professional Help, Social Interaction – March 21, 2014
- Palliative Care Addresses Illness, Boosts Quality of Life – January 31, 2014
- What to Do When Memory Loss Goes Beyond Normal – December 13, 2013
- How to Avoid the “Hospital Revolving Door” Syndrome – October 4, 2013
- Aging Often Triggers Trauma for Holocaust Survivors – August 9, 2013
- In Aging Crisis, Who Ya Gonna Call? Start with an Expert – June 14, 2013
- Home Care Often the Best Option for Aging in Place – April 5, 2013
- Zayde and Bubbe Go High Tech – February 1, 2013
- How Do I Plan for End-of-Life Issues When I Have No Children? –
December 14, 2012
- Hold on to Your Seats – It’s Time to Enroll for Medicare – October 5, 2012
- Take Control of Your Life, All the Way to the End – August 17, 2012
- Driving Is Like Baseball — You Need to Get Home Safely – June 15, 2012
- Frustration Normal when Caregiving Roles Reverse – April 13, 2012
- My Mom Still Lives at Home, Should I Be Worried? – February 10, 2012