Older man with hood on feeling depressedMany people have a love – hate relationship with the holidays. They may look forward to dazzling light displays, gift exchanges, or time with friends and family. While the holidays can exhaust the best of us,  January and February can feel never-ending. We may feel a dip in the serotonin levels due to loneliness, lack of activities to look forward to or cold, dark weather. We can feel isolated if we don’t make a conscious effort to see friends and family. It’s especially difficult for older adults who already struggle to walk, drive or get out of the house, regardless of the weather.

If you or a loved one can’t shake the blues and find daily activities of living difficult (bathing, dressing, toileting, eating), become tearful, irritable, lose or gain weight or struggle with sleep, depression may be the cause. The good news is depression is treatable.

Find more information about depression and how to treat it here.

Here, we provide Part II of our Caregiving and Holidays blog. If you missed Part I, check it out. As we continue to explore this topic, depression cannot go without addressing.

Caregiving and Depression

Caregiving for aging loved ones during the holidays can bring us joy as well as sadness and pain. It can contribute to depression, despite glad tidings.

Older adult woman walking in snow

Photo by Nikolai Voelcker on Unsplash

Memories

You may recall unhappy memories over the holidays. We naturally remember old times and sometimes our memories are more bitter than sweet. You may also find yourself dwelling on what is missing rather than what is present.

Toxic Relatives

Holidays can put us in the same room with relatives we avoid the rest of the year. Some relatives can lack compassion and dismiss depression. They may view it laziness or selfishness. This can feel all the more hurtful.

Reminders of What Has Changed

The holidays often highlight all that has changed in your life. This can add to holiday stress.

Operate with Lowered Defenses

During the holiday season, you’re more likely to overindulge, leaving your defenses lowered. Limit alcohol, overeating and over-doing it. Instead, overindulge in laughter, rest, healthy eating and exercise.

Coping with Depression

Following are some ways to cope with depression over the holidays.

Acknowledge your Feelings

It’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s ok to cry and express your feelings of sadness and grief. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season and that’s ok.

Older woman on the phoneReach Out

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. It is important not to isolate yourself. Rather, reach out for help and connect with others as a way to heal.

Be Realistic

The holidays don’t have to be perfect or the way they were years ago. As families grow and change, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few traditions to hold onto while remaining open to creating new ones.

Set Aside Differences

Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Try to provide understanding if others get upset or distressed when something does not go according to plan. Chances are, they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

Hold on to Healthy Habits

The holidays don’t have to become a free-for-all. Overindulgence may add to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.

Take a Breather

Take some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Seek Professional Help if you Need It

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Talking to a therapist may help. You can search for one online.

Seniors & Depression

Older people often find as the holiday season unfolds, they feel progressively disappointed, stressed and sad.

Reminders of past losses: Many seniors have survived a number of their cherished friends and family members and these losses often take on greater significance during the holidays.

Sadness over the contrast between “then” and “now”: For many older people, the memories of holidays past so outshine present day celebrations they feel unable to focus on or experience pleasure in the “now.”

Unrealistic expectations:  The holidays can bring a host of expectations, such as family togetherness, festive events and feelings of expanded happiness. Reality too often falls short of these expectations, which can cause an individual to plummet to new lows of sadness, feelings of loneliness and despair.

Spending the holidays alone:  Some seniors live by themselves and/or at a distance from friends and family and spend much, if not all, of the holidays alone. Grown children often become busy with their own social obligations and may not realize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to sharing time during the holidays with them.

Coping with failing health: The holidays can often serve to underscore the limitations failing health imposes on the ability to participate in once-enjoyed activities.

How to Brighten the Holidays

Seniors and their family members, friends and caregivers can do many things to help prevent, recognize and manage holiday depression. To avoid the holiday blues, stay active, interested, engaged and healthy.

Be social: Plan activities you think a loved one would enjoy and contact family members with whom they would enjoy spending time. Maintain contact with the world. Phone calls and visits, no matter how brief, help everyone stay connected.

Take care: Make sure each person in your care remains in good health, gets plenty of sleep, eats nutritiously and stays as active as possible.

Talk about it: If you think someone is experiencing depression, talk with a doctor, spiritual advisor or friend that your loved one trusts.

Be available: Make transportation and services readily available.  If loved ones feel like a bother, that can make them feel even worse.

Lend an ear: If you think your loved one is depressed, explain to them your concerns. Lend an empathetic ear and offer to accompany the individual to a doctor.

Lend your eyes: Help friends or loved ones with limited eyesight write out or read holiday greetings.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia can add an additional dimension to holiday stress due to the changes in the care recipient’s condition or lack of understanding among family members.

Familiarize others with the situation:  Let guests know what to expect before they arrive. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.   Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person. You may find this easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients.

Adjust expectations: For example, move gatherings to brunch instead of dinner, if evenings are a problem. Try to avoid known triggers.

Involve the care recipient: Build on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.

Involve the person in holiday preparation. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you hang them.

Adapt gift giving: Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Don’t forget to ask for something for yourself.

Celebrating in a facility: A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. Here are some ways to celebrate together:

  • Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud

Many people struggle with emotions during the holidays, especially those who care for aging loved ones. The days get shorter and media messages create a false sense of the “perfect” holiday experience to which many cannot relate. We can enjoy the holiday season by celebrating our lives and those we love.

miniature Christmas scene

Stress & Holidays

Stress, frustration and anger can easily replace peace and good will for a number of reasons during the holidays:

  • Caring for someone severely ill, disabled or cognitively impaired may leave caregivers feeling like they cannot participate as fully as they would like in holiday activities.
  • Already overwhelmed with caregiving tasks, many view holiday preparations as an additional drain.
  • Caregivers may feel resentful towards other family members who they feel have not offered enough assistance. Luckily, there are strategies for coping.

Strategies for Coping

  • Communicate: It’s difficult to talk about a loved one’s decline. Honest communication about the realities of it allows others to assist. Sharing the truths of your situation may help reduce the isolation and lack of appreciation you may feel.
  • Clarify your energy level: Let family members know that your caregiving duties keep you busy and that you only have so much energy for holiday preparation and hosting duties. Learn to say no!
  • Adapt: Caregivers need to adapt their traditional role or experience of the holidays. Allow or ask another family member to host more time-intensive festivities. You may also need to modify your time to match the comfort level of your loved one. You will have to choose which events to attend based upon which are simplest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for you and the person you care for.
  • Share your wish list: Whether it’s respite from caregiving, home repairs that you need or plain care for you, make your wishes known.
  • Reflect on the rewards: Focus on the positive. Reflecting on the rewards of caregiving can help maintain your drive. If you need help with that, check out one of our caregiving seminars.
  • Be flexible: When something doesn’t go the way you’d planned, laugh, regroup and make the best of it. Rather than letting the mishaps control you, control them by keeping your sense of humor, keeping a positive perspective and adapting to different solutions.

Caring for Yourself

Exercise: Taking a brisk walk is a great way to release pent up frustrations. Set aside time to walk as often as you can. You can even walk with or push the person you provide care for in a wheelchair. In the winter, you can walk at the Mall or an indoor track. Exercise also increases endorphins which reduces stress and elevates your mood.

Take breaks: Take daily, weekly, monthly and yearly breaks. Try to plan a daily break to do an activity you enjoy. Then, plan a weekly activity, such as a trip to the library or a movie. A monthly break might include a night out with friends. A yearly break could mean a vacation. Plan ahead and arrange for care of your loved one. Removing yourself from the situation for a period, can give you a fresh perspective as well as recharge your batteries.

Give a gift to yourself:  Slow down and be kind to yourself. Take a break and enjoy the holiday. You do what you can and no one can expect more than that. Meditate. Practicing a daily meditation technique gives you the experience of deep rest.

Keep shopping simple:  Use non-traditional methods, such as catalogs or internet. Consider gift cards. Financial concerns can be part of the stress of the holidays. Set a budget beforehand and try to stick to it. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Prepare for post-holiday let down:  Often, despite our best efforts to create a wonderful holiday season, we may feel let down. We may feel burned out, crabby, apathetic, impatient and/or exhausted. Often, we set the expectations too high and/or linger on past memories of the holidays.

Seek support:  Have coffee with a friend and talk about your feelings. Join or continue to attend a support group. Seek professional help if you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, physically ill, unable to sleep, irritable, hopeless and unable to focus on routine chores.

With the holidays quickly approaching, consider using your extended time wisely with family. We don’t mean catching up on work emails during visits with your aging relatives. Use this quality time to take stock of aging loved ones’ health, safety and wellbeing.Aging Relatives and Extended Family

Daily Activities of Living

You can observe aging relatives’ health, safety and wellbeing by thinking in terms of the daily activities of living that we all engage in such as bathing, dressing, eating, and transferring (moving from sitting to standing, walking or getting in and out of a wheelchair, bed or car, or getting on and off a toilet seat). With each passing year, daily activities of living can get more challenging.

Listen, Share and Observe

Listen to your aging relatives, share your thoughts with them and observe them closely so you can get a thorough understanding of what realms they may experience difficulties. They may not even recognize their need for help. As an outsider looking in, you may quickly recognize their needs. They may even deny their needs or not want to “burden” you.

What You Can Do

Some things you can do when you’re in aging relatives’ homes:

  1. Check the refrigerator. Is there adequate and nutritious food available? Is it expired?
  2. Check the bathrooms. Are they clean? Might they benefit from handrails, a rubber mat, a walk-in shower or a raised toilet seat? Is there adequate soap and bath tissue? Could they use a cleaning service to help them do a more thorough cleaning?
  3. Examine their car. Are there any new scrapes, dings or dents indicating trouble with driving or seeing? Might they need a new prescription for glasses? Might driving pose a danger to them or others?
  4. Are their floors clear of clutter and tripping hazards?
  5. Are everyday items easy to reach without having to use a step-stool or ladder?
  6. How do your aging loved ones look? Do they appear well-rested? Are their clothes clean? Have they showered or bathed and maintained consistent hygiene?

These are just some of the things to take note of as you interact with your aging relatives in their homes.

Use Caution: Refrain from Religion, Politics and Moving

It’s important to use your best judgement and proceed with caution when observing aging loved ones’ health, safety and wellness. The holidays aren’t always the best time to suggest making major changes.
During the holidays, it’s best to steer clear of potential stressors such as the need to move out of the home, the need to stop driving, one’s religious preferences or political issues of the day. Instead, take time to gently and build awareness of potential needs but most importantly, tune in, listen and enjoy your time together.

You Identified Some Issues…Now What?!

Once the dust has settled, consider engaging your aging relatives in a conversation about your concerns. Vocalize your thoughts and invite them to share theirs. Listen deeply and use empathy. If together, you cannot address your concerns or improve their safety, health and wellbeing, ask their permission to reach out to a professional or their healthcare provider for his or her input and assessment.

Most importantly, work with your loved ones and make them part of the process. This will give them buy-in and the respect they deserve. When people feel valued, they are more likely to agree.

Falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older adults. That said, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones by making small changes to reduce the risks of falling.

Reduce risks of falling. This man broke his leg after falling.Reducing the risks of falls for seniors is important for a number of reasons. Think about it. For a young person in their 20’s to loose his footing and trip on a concrete curb on the street may cause him embarrassment. When the person who falls is an older adult, his risks increase dramatically. Bones become increasingly fragile as we age. Falling onto concrete can easily fracture bones, cause heavy bleeding, a head injury or worse for older adults.

Get the facts on falls. Consider what you can do to reduce risks of falling both for you and your aging loved ones.

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Man jogging in the summer heatThe dog days of Summer have arrived for those in the Midwest. The humidity has risen and so have temps. Staying cool can pose a challenge, particularly for those who work outdoors. For the elderly, Summer heat can be downright dangerous. Think about it, older adults often exercise less which means poorer blood circulation and sweat gland functionality. Remember, sweat cools our bodies. Elderly folks have difficulty regulating their body temperature so if it’s hotter than heck, the body temperature could rise above the normal 98.6 degrees, threatening to cause heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke.  It is important to learn the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so you can take action if needed. Heat stroke can be deadly. Prevention is key and proper hydration can help. Stay away from caffeinated and alcoholic drinks because they can reverse the effects of hydration. Everydayhealth has more information about the effects of heat on the elderly.

Stay cool and find other ways to keep your elderly loved ones healthy!

Many of us experience life as caregivers at one time or another.

Whether we must attend to our younger siblings at an early age, provide for our own children, our partners, neighbors, parents, family members or patients—we find ourselves in the position of taking care of another person.

Older adult with walker

Caregiver Role

Our role as caregiver may require us to step into the role amidst a crisis or emergency, or if we’re fortunate, we get the opportunity to plan ahead and prepare ourselves for our new role over the course of time. Our role as caregiver always coincides with our other roles in life such as that of parent, partner, daughter/son, neighbor, friend, community member, caregiver and (insert profession here). Take precautions so that this does not lead to high anxiety and reduced self-care. Eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise and do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself so that you can care for your loved one.

Caregiving Requires Us to be Experts at Many Things

In addition to taking on the personas of many different roles, we as caregivers of aging loved ones, assume the responsibilities of chef, nurse, medication manager, physician, maid, taxi driver, financial adviser, lawyer, organizer, mover, accountant, real estate agent or companion to those for whom we care. We do this out of love and concern. It forces us to quickly become experts in each of these areas, which may not always jive with our already-busy schedules. Juggling multiple roles demands a lot from us, to say the least. Reading up on and detaching ourselves a little bit about each of the above-mentioned roles and associated issues before a crisis hits, can go a long way in ensuring your aging loved one is cared for as best as possible without sending you into panic mode.

Resources for Caregivers

The good news is resources abound in each of these domains of caring. Connecting with VistaLynk and enrolling in one of our caregiving courses or eldercare workshops will better prepare you as a caregiver of an older loved one. VistaLynk learning opportunities provide expertise and support that allow participants to rest a little easier knowing their loved one has what he or she needs to thrive.

Many families begin to think about their summer plans in Spring. Summer jobs for students, neighborhood pools, family trips to the beach or lake, and camping may appear on your Summer bucket list. But have you considered volunteering? As you plan your Summer, consider giving back to your elderly community. Volunteer at a local senior center or nursing home. If you have children, involve them in the planning and encourage their participation. Most older adults enjoy friendly new faces, interacting with others, playing games, listening to music, doing singalongs and other activities. Many older adults have lost friends and family members. Some feel lonely and receive few visitors. You can make a difference in someone’s life by contacting your local senior center or nursing care facility and asking how you can get involved. Not only will it help the residents who live there or visit, it can help you too. Research suggests that doing good for others, ultimately does our own selves a lot of good.

Shiv Gaglani, contributor for Forbes, wrote an article titled, Why We Should Care for our Caregivers which centers around the importance of caregiver well-being and resilience. It reminds us that if we do not care for ourselves, we cannot properly care for our elders due its strenuous nature. The article includes the science behind the importance. Take a quiet, relaxing moment to read it, and remember, as you March into Spring, please take time to smell the flowers!

A senior couple holding hands

February is American Heart Month. Because of this, we’d like to focus our attention to healthy relationships and social connections. Relationships and social supports at every age contribute to a person’s ability

to cope with stress. Our relationships play a vital role because having good quality ones and social supports protect us in times of stress. Humans of all ages need connection and “social capital”. Social capital refers to the combination of social relationships that provides support and plays a key role in resilience against stress and disease.

Social Support & Connection = Better Health

Americans celebrate American Heart Month each February. What does this have to do with our need for social support and connection? Two of the risk factors for heart disease include significant stress and high blood pressure. Having healthy social supports (interaction with friends, family, etc.) can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Our Connections series illustrates the importance of it.

Think about it. When you lean on friends and family when you need help or just need a good laugh or cry, you feel more relaxed. You can face your challenges more easily because they feel less frightening. Without the social support and connection of friends and family, even the smallest of difficulties can feel overwhelming. Long-term stress can negatively impact the body in significant ways, especially your heart.

Risks of Heart Disease

Of course, other factors contribute to increased risk of heart disease such as:

  • Smoking
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising regularly

However, with social supports in place and strong connections with friends and family, we may find it easier to engage in healthy behaviors. Our friends and family can encourage healthy behaviors.

Honor Your Heart

This February, honor American Heart Month by rounding up some friends or family members for a healthy outing. Take a long walk, go to the gym, take a yoga class, try a new healthy foods restaurant, take a cooking class, or just spend some quality time together. Think of interactions with social supports as self-care and a way to help your heart’s health this February.