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How to help seniors handle holiday depression

Cleveland Clinic expert wants you to help loved ones beat holiday blues

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The holidays bring back memories of good times had throughout the years. 

However, as people age and loved ones pass or move away, what once brought feelings of joy, might now bring sadness.

Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Ronan Factora said the best way for seniors to beat the holiday blues is to stay active and involved.

“Trying to keep a person from feeling isolated, being alone; trying to get them involved in family activities, community activities,” Factora said. “This is a time really to reach out and make sure people are feeling well, that they’re feeling OK and they’re not feeling lonely or depressed.” 

Factora said that people form an emotional expectation of what the holidays should be like -- full of family, friends and events. But when reality changes, and those people and events fade away, loneliness can set in and evolve into depression. 

He said physical limitations, financial constraints, and new living arrangements can also take their toll on older family members around the holidays.

Depression is common in older people, according to Factora, with some estimates showing that 8 to 16 percent of seniors experience clinically significant depressive symptoms. 

Signs of depression include becoming more withdrawn and less interactive, loss of interest or enjoyment in activities, and sleeping or eating too much or too little.

Depression is a serious but treatable illness. Many benefit from therapy, counseling or medications.  

The bottom line is to keep a close eye on loved ones, especially around the holidays, when emotions run high.

“We should be watchful for our older persons who are at risk,” Factora said. “These are the people who don’t have a lot of friends, don’t have a lot family, or family members and friends who live far away. Reach out to them, see how they’re doing, make sure they feel connected, and be mindful of any clues, anything unusual, in their behavior that would suggest that they’re feeling lonelier or more depressed.” 

Factora said the holidays can help people identify whether loved ones are prone to feelings of loneliness and depression. 

Once holiday blues are identified, proactive steps -- like regular visits and activities -- can be planned to help prevent future occurrences. 

If a loved one continues to experience signs and symptoms of depression, seek the help of a health care provider.