By Ronan Factora, M.D.
During the holidays, our thoughts may gravitate to memories of our youth, growing up and time spent with family and friends. But as often happens when we age, family members and friends pass away. Loved ones move far away because of family and job obligations. Some people transition out of the homes where they spent decades of their lives, in order to make living arrangements that meet their growing care needs. Sometimes this means moving in with family, but not always – older persons may not be able to follow their families from place to place because of physical limitations or their financial situation. Loneliness can take hold, especially during the holidays, a time that in the past was filled with activities and traditions with family and friends.
It’s natural to feel nostalgic, and it’s normal for people to feel sad when they think about the past and good times they had with others who are now far away or have passed away. Though these emotions may be difficult at times to view and address, we have to accept
Feeling sad, down or “low” is only one symptom of depression. A person may also lose interest in or no longer enjoy activities that they once took part in. They may have problems with sleep – either sleeping much less or much more than before. A depressed person may complain of low energy, and may experience frequent intrusive, guilty, or ruminating thoughts. Their appetite may decline, and weight may be lost.
A person with depression may find it hard to motivate themselves to get started each morning, or, instead, may find it difficult to sit still, continually fidgeting throughout the day. Concentration may be impaired – they may not be able to focus on what they are doing. People suffering from depression may even state that they feel that life is not worth living or that they’re “better off dead.” In severe circumstances, they may even contemplate or attempt suicide.
Family, friends and neighbors of older individuals should be on the lookout for changes in an older person’s mood or behavior that may indicate depression. If you notice something different or concerning, don’t ignore it – ask the person you’re concerned about if he or she is feeling down, low or sad. Keep a close eye on how they’re doing, and if mood doesn’t improve or gets worse over a few weeks, suggest that they see a doctor to determine if what they are feeling is more serious than just the loneliness, sadness and nostalgia that often accompanies the holiday season . If they don’t live nearby, give them a call to let them know you’re thinking about them or, if possible, offer to visit. Human interaction, in addition to formal treatment approaches, can work wonders for an older adult dealing with depression.
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