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Tips for Avoiding Nursing Home Depression During Holidays

How to Help Your Elderly Loved Ones Avoid Depression During the Holiday Season

For most of us, the holiday season is filled with family gatherings, festive outings, and magical memories. For others, specifically the elderly population, the holiday season could be the darkest time of year.
Laci Cornelison, a research assistant with Kansas State University’s Center on Aging, explains that,

“The depression rate among institutionalized elders is around 50 percent. The holidays can be a trigger for increased symptoms of depression, likely because they are a time of observing long-standing traditions and getting together with family and loved ones.”

lonely elderly person

Some of the factors that contribute to holiday depression include:

  • Loss of Independence
  • Feeling isolated or alone
  • Immobility (Inability to attend church services, go holiday shopping, etc.)
  • Financial Limitations

So what can you do to help?

Here are Five Tips to Help Your Loved Ones Avoid Depression During the Holidays:

Make Them Feel Included
Take them out (if possible) for holiday parties or gatherings. Even if they’re unable to move around or participate in certain activities, getting them out of the facility and around friends and loved ones can help boost their mood and sense of purpose.
Ask opinions on recipes, gifts, etc. Not sure what dessert to bring to the holiday gathering? Having trouble buying something for an aunt or uncle? Asking for help with holiday tasks can make your loved ones feel included and needed around this special time.
Show them pictures and videos if they can’t attend family parties or gatherings. Everyone takes plenty of photos and videos around the holiday season. If your elderly loved one is not able to attend, be sure to bring photos or videos soon after the event so they can see the faces of their friends and family members.

Provide Opportunities for Socialization
Isolation can often trigger depression. Encourage your loved one to participate in any activities hosted by the nursing home or assisted living facility. Check in to ask about their friends and relationships within the nursing home, try to listen and gauge how they feel about the current state of their relationships with other people.
Make sure the nursing home is hosting activities like holiday crafts, choir performances, etc. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities work hard to make this a happy time for their residents, but oftentimes they need your help! Ask your community choir to make a visit to the home, suggest fun craft ideas, or inquire about their holiday needs so you can try and help.

Encourage Activity
Whether it’s participating in group exercise classes or simply walking around the facility, staying active is an important part of avoiding depression. If your loved one is able to get out of the facility, take them to walk around a holiday lights display or a decorated shopping mall. If they’re immobile and cannot necessarily leave, take them for strolls around the facility grounds or encourage appropriate group fitness classes for their specific abilities.

Provide Necessary Treatment
Oftentimes, those living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities just want someone to talk to. If you are unable to spend as much time as you’d like visiting and talking to your loved one, encourage therapy or group discussions offered by the home. Empathy and understanding is an important part of feeling validated and important- go with them to meet with a counselor and encourage continuing weekly visits.

Go Visit!
One of the best ways to discourage onset depression is to socialize and visit with loved ones. Although the holidays can be a busy season, it’s important to take time out of the week to visit the elderly. Kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. are oftentimes the “light of their lives” and bring so much joy after a visit.

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