Just about everyone has experienced or knows someone who has experienced feelings of loneliness, isolation, sadness, anxiety, and emptiness during the holidays. These feelings that come about during festive times are referred to as Holiday Blues. The reasons for a melancholy mood can vary from the loss of a loved one to living alone without any family nearby.

The traditional holiday season begins with Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s Eve. And when there is a pandemic that has many people staying at home, this can be an especially trying time for seniors who will not be able to celebrate in person with family and friends. Loneliness, whether due to age-related mobility, health, or financial restrictions, will contribute to a sense of isolation in many seniors. People who live with or care for seniors are in the best position to be aware of mood changes and to help their loved ones avoid holiday sadness.

5 ways to avoid holiday blues during COVID

1. Know the signs of holiday blues:
Some of the signs that a senior may be experiencing holiday blues include changes in daily hygiene and sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, irritability, lack of interest in normally pleasurable activities, decreased ability to concentrate, and increased talk about death and dying. One way to help seniors overcome their blue mood is to seek professional help. There are several outpatient Medicare mental health services available for Medicare recipients who have Parts A and B, including a telehealth visit with their medical provider. These services are covered when the doctor accepts Medicare assignment.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is withdrawing from daily routines or if you see signs of frustration or anxiety as the holiday approaches, talk to a doctor about your feelings of loneliness. These office or telehealth visits are part of the approved Medicare mental health services. Sometimes all it takes to improve someone’s mental perspective is to have a sincere talk with a professional about their feelings.

2. Plan ahead for holiday activities:
Discuss your holiday plans and encourage senior relatives and friends to participate in a safe way. It is understandable if seniors do not want to go gift shopping where they may be exposed to the coronavirus. You can offer to help them shop online, to wrap the presents once they have arrived, to deliver them to those who live nearby, and to mail the gifts for out-of-town relatives.

Plan a baking party. If there are traditional cake, pie, or cookies that you always bake, you can have the ingredients delivered. If you have a senior loved one who looks forward to baking these goodies, remind them that there are ways to wrap and deliver them to nearby family and friends for a memorable taste of the holidays.

Some seniors with mobility problems are not able to put up holiday decorations either inside or outdoors. Make a special time to help with the decorations, or take pictures of the finished ornaments and electronically share them with other family members and friends.

Fresh air is a great mood lifter. Take your elderly relatives for a drive that can include drive-by visits for social distancing chats and to see how neighbors and friends have decorated their homes. Another activity that will get seniors out of their homes is to go for a stroll through a local park or just around the neighborhood. Remember to wear masks and observe social distances when passing other people.

3. Stay connected with loved ones:
If a senior agrees to come to a family gathering, be sure that everyone follows the accepted protocols of social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing to minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

If a senior does not feel comfortable in getting together with people who they do not live with, there are always video chats and Zoom gatherings where everyone is face-to-face for holiday meals and the opening of presents. Encourage loved ones to visit their elderly family members with drive-by visits to let them know how much they are loved.

4. Create new traditions:
Ask seniors for their input on how to create new holiday traditions that their families can build on in the future. They might like to start a growing family album that can be put online. The tradition would be like a family tree with a picture of each person taken each year to show how much they have grown. The album can include past family members and new family members. Each picture can include one or two sentences about what that person is thankful for or what they like the most about the holiday. Another new tradition might be letting each family group select a favorite movie that everyone can watch at the same time using Zoom. After the movie, everyone can have a dessert ready to eat while they discuss what they liked best about the movie.

5. Let seniors set their own pace:
The most important thing to remember during the holiday season is to include seniors in as many activities as they feel comfortable participating in. Ask for their input and really listen to their comments. Do not assume that they are not able to join in the activities and do not push them to do something they will not enjoy.

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