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The words ‘holiday’ and ‘depression’ may not seem to go hand-in-hand, but according to the American Medical Resource Institute, “Approximately 6 million people over 65 are depressed”.  Some of the signs of depression are persistent sadness, frequent tearfulness, weight changes, and changes in sleep patterns.

The holidays can often bring to mind loved ones that have passed or bring up memories of a way of life that is no more.  If you are a caregiver or have aging family members or neighbors and think they may struggle with depression, consider these helpful tips to help them through it. Even if you don’t think they are depressed you may still find that these activities and techniques boost their mood during the holidays.

1. Make a plan. Having and implementing a plan for activities gives everyone something to look forward to. Perhaps you will help your loved one plan what they will bring to Thanksgiving dinner, take them to the grocery store, and prepare it together at home. Get the calendar out for November and December and write down in special colors the activities you will plan to be apart of. The act of writing them down brings a sense of ownership and commitment to the event, so even if they don’t feel like going when the time comes, they may feel obligated to.

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2. Service. The best way to re-route the sad, self-focused thoughts is to focus on someone or something else. This can effectively be done through acts of service. Figure out what holds your loved one’s interest and help them find a way to serve in that vein. Not only will they be a help to those around them, but the will become less focused on the voids in their life and shift their perspective to what they do have.  A few service ideas are to donate goods to a food drive, volunteer to serve a meal, offer to knit or crochet blankets or baby hats for the local hospital, look in to volunteering at the library or botanical garden, offer to play music for assisted living facilities, or be apart of an environmental clean-up group. Again, whatever ‘lights their fire’ so to speak is what they will want to put their hand to.

3. Listen and respond. If your loved one wants to talk about what’s bothering them then make sure to offer a listening ear. Sometimes part of the process is to voice aloud fond memories or what they miss about a person. The flip side of this is someone not wanting to talk about it, and it’s not wise to push it. Make sure they know you are there to listen, but don’t constantly ask them, “What’s wrong?” Another technique to help someone open up is to talk about your own holiday memories and traditions. They may be more inclined to chime in if you are opening up first.

4. Communication. This is the last point, but it’s the most important. Communication is the only real way to assess how your loved one is faring. If you are unable to visit due to where you live, make sure to call as often as you can. The feeling of being alone or isolated only compounds the depression problem, so do what you can to ‘be present’. If you have little children at home, encourage them to write a letter or draw a picture and send it in the mail. Receiving a letter in the mail is sure to lift spirits.

The holidays are such a busy time, and everyone seems to have extra ‘to-dos’ on their lists. If we all take a few minutes to observe, listen, and respond to the aging adults around us, we will find true joy this holiday season. Compassion is contagious so spread it around!