While the holidays are filled with fun festivities for most of us, this can be the most depressing of all seasons for the elderly. Many seniors pine for lost loved one and have families hundreds of miles away. It’s often a struggle for seniors to decorate, shop and prepare a meal, especially for those with health issues who can’t move around with ease.

So instead of rushing out to the store to buy a meaningless, last-minute gift that may end up tucked away in grandma’s closet, local families are hiring holiday companions for their elderly loved ones. Visiting Angels, one of the leading in-home senior care companies in the nation, has caregivers who can help seniors beat the holiday blues this holiday season.

SENIOR HOLIDAY BLUES

Roughly 1 in 4 seniors (ages 65 or older) suffers from depression. Nearly one-third of all older Americans who live at home live alone. Studies show holidays trigger half of all depressive episodes.

“The holidays can be tough on seniors because many have lost people they loved. Plus, they aren’t as mobile to visit friends and family or even decorate or shop,” said Larry Meigs, CEO of Visiting Angels. “Our caregivers socialize with seniors, take them shopping and keep them engaged instead of sitting at home feeling isolated and depressed. Our caregivers also give families a heads up about their senior’s state-of-mind to differentiate between the holiday blues and full blown depression.”

HOW ANGELS HELP SENIORS BEAT THE HOLIDAY BLUES

• Help prepare for the season: Visiting Angels caregivers can help seniors decorate the tree, wrap presents, shop for gifts, or bake cookies or simply can spend time with them at home.

• Encourage seniors to exercise: Various studies reveal that staying physically active not only makes people feel good but also has the same effect on mood and brain chemistry as antidepressants.

• Keep alcohol use to a minimum: Alcohol is a known depressant. Visiting Angels caregivers can create some other festive drinks, such as eggnog or a flavored hot chocolate, to help seniors cheerfully toast the season.

• Create alternative presents other than expensive gifts: Giving certainly can make seniors feel good, but in times of financial despair, giving gifts can create a lot of stress. Instead, Visiting Angels caregivers can help seniors write and send personalized cards to family and friends.

• Keep seniors connected socially: Volunteer at a soup kitchen (or other organization) with a caregiver. Giving back greatly improves peoples’ moods and increases their sense of self-worth. Caregivers can also teach seniors how to use computers or cellphones to stay socially connected with family and friends. They can take seniors to a local coffee shop or to look at holiday lights for some festive cheer outside the home.

Listen closely: Sometimes all seniors want is someone to listen to them. Through conversation, caregivers can help seniors live in the present instead of dwelling on “the good old days” and keep their holiday expectations realistic.

SENIOR HOLIDAY BLUES VS. SENIOR DEPRESSION

Senior holiday blues are often temporary and go away when the season ends. The holiday blues are also associated with the time change as daylight hours become shorter. If the blues continue after the season, it could be a warning sign of depression.

Senior depression is often mistaken for other age-related issues. In fact, stress-related events such as the holidays may trigger half of all depressive episodes, according to the U.C. Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Common signs of senior depression include:

• Lack of appetite.

• Extreme fatigue and excessive sleeping. The body shuts down to escape from the outside world.

• Problems concentrating.

• Anti-social behavior. The senior may stop doing normal things, such as going to church.

• Older adults may not express sadness (unlike kids with depression).

• Abuse of drugs or alcohol.

• Being angry, sarcastic and criticizing others’ joy of the season.

Visiting Angels was established in 1991 in Baltimore, Md., as an independent agency caring for seniors in their homes. Today, Visiting Angels has more than 450 private duty agencies throughout the United States. Visiting Angels agencies employ only experienced caregivers and conduct the most comprehensive background screenings to ensure that their caregivers meet or exceed the company’s high standards. For more information on Visiting Angels or to find a location near you, please visit www.visitingangels.com.