Depression, the Elderly and the Holidays

A short visit to elderly neighbors can brighten everyone's holiday.

A short visit to elderly neighbors can brighten everyone's holiday.

If you are gathering steam to celebrate the holidays in grand style, you might consider visiting a neighbor or two in those plans. A visit to an elderly person, especially, during the holidays can lift everyone’s spirits well as provide the elderly person with a reason to avoid feeling isolated and depressed. These feelings often are more pronounced during traditional holiday festivities, especially if that elder has few social connections or family ties.

Older people who are at high risk for depression are those who are ill or disabled or who lack social contact and support. While few people would expect a neighbor to become involved with early signs of depression, a watchful eye on some obvious symptoms may help save an otherwise healthy elder from suicidal thoughts or actions. While you are not expected to become a caretaker in these situations, you might be surprised at how a relationship with your elderly neighbor can enhance your own life.

You can watch for the following symptoms of depression, which may include feelings of guilt or apathy, loss of self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite, weight loss or weight gain, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in favorite activities and a pervasive feeling of sadness. It is easier to recognize these feelings in a loved one who is close to the family, but even neighbors can get a glimpse into an elder’s state of mind if that person mentions some of the difficulties in casual conversation. A simple mention of a lack of sleep and sloppy dress on a normally impeccable person may provide hints to a depressed state of mind.

Some people incorrectly assume that symptoms of depression in older people are a normal part of aging (as in the “Bah! Humbug!” syndrome). Others may assume that symptoms may relate to Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, however, depression can be treated successfully with a combination of medications and/or therapy. Finally, there is a tendency to see the desire for privacy or solitude as symptoms of depression – some elderly people actually like the peace and quiet afforded by their solitude and don’t want to be annoyed by constant visits. Think long and hard, therefore, about bringing your kids around to visit with you, unless your elderly neighbor knows and enjoys your company as well as your kids’ presences.

This is why, as a neighbor, it is best to let the family handle any changes in your elderly neighbor’s behaviors. At the same time, they may not see their loved one as often as you do. In cases like this, it would not be out of line to offer the family assistance. Let them know you would be happy to contact them in emergency situations or if you see changes in your elderly neighbor’s behavior. If the family turns you down, at least you have offered your assistance. And, it doesn’t hurt to offer the same assistance to the elderly person, as that individual may take you up on your offer.

The holidays can make those symptoms of depression even more pronounced, but – sometimes – when the holidays pass, so do the symptoms. All it may take to help relieve those feelings of loneliness or sadness may be a visit to help decorate a door or to provide some canned goods or simply to say “hi.” You can easily bring some huge joy to someone with little effort on your part.

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