12/20/12 — Seniors often face depression during holiday season

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Seniors often face depression during holiday season

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 20, 2012 1:46 PM

Holidays, especially Christmas, are not always festive and joyful for everyone.

Especially the elderly, says Carolyn Robertson, a registered nurse who teaches health-related issues at the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center on Ash Street.

On Friday at 2 p.m. her topic will address one of the by-products of the Christmas season -- depression.

"We notice around the holidays, in particular, people need a little bit more nurturing," she said. "They have lived a long life, they have lived a good life.

"In the winter, they have been shut off from people that may not be coming around as often or may be dead."

Many have outlived their friends or in some cases their spouse or children. Others are affected by health issues that have slowed them down or reduced their independence.

"They get lonely, they get blue," Ms. Robertson said. "People think that when you grow old, depression is a rite of passage. It doesn't have to be.

"When people have lived 75, 80 years, they don't give up their privacy very well, they don't give up their dignity."

Christmas can be a particularly tough time, she explained, particularly when the person is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of others enjoying their lives and being unable to keep pace.

The symptoms of depression can vary -- from having trouble eating, sleeping or coping to feelings of sadness, helplessness, irritability or guilt, diminished interest in favorite activities, difficulty concentrating or sleeping a lot.

While it can be caused by stress, the loss of a loved one or other overwhelming situation, it can also be involuntary, related to a chemical imbalance or other physical changes.

There are several ways to treat depression, Ms. Robertson said. Some of it is as simple as changing routine, while more severe cases may call for counseling or medication.

In the less severe cases, she said, it can be simply a matter of making an effort. For some, it may help to have a pet or a stuffed animal to cherish, while others might benefit from a trip to the beauty parlor.

"How do you age gracefully?" Ms. Robertson asked. "You don't ever reach a point where you're saying, 'I'm aging gracefully.' You can be knocked down with strokes, heart attacks, visual problems, so there is no way to gracefully age. We can deal with it gracefully."

Sometimes, it's a matter of doing basic things -- adequate rest, diet, attitude, exercise.

"Just give them a sense of wanting to keep in a healthy state," Ms. Robertson said. "You want people to brighten up their environment-- open the blinds, let the sun shine in, look at the flowers, the trees, that shows that the world is continuing and creation is going on. Doing a flower arrangements, something that lights up your day.

"You're going to dig yourself out of that hole. The only person that can do it is you, but you can do it."

For seniors without family close by, there are other outlets for socialization, she said.

"Most people are connected with a church and a lot of the churches in the area have Christmas galas and they invite people or they bring food and that kind of thing," she said.

An interim measure is to turn on the TV or radio, while hobbies also serve to keep a person occupied.

"It's all a matter of how far you're willing to extend yourself," Ms. Robertson said. "There's no magic formula. What works for me may not work for you."

She praised the senior center for filling a void for many. One thing it does especially well, she said, is provide structure with its daily schedule of activities.

"They have purposeful things," she said. "I wish people would tell everybody what we're doing here and tell them about the classes. Tell them to come with questions, tell them to come with solutions."

Eryn McAuliffe, director of the senior center, said she has recently hired additional staff and extended the hours. It is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with the exception of Wednesday, when it closes at 6. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

It will be closed Dec. 24-26 and again Jan. 1, but otherwise will be open over the holiday period, she said.

For more information on classes and programs, call 919-731-1591.