During the COVID-19 Pandemic, “Social Isolation” has become a buzz word often thought to be equivalent to loneliness. However, during and after the winter holidays the elderly may have reasons to feel lonely, even if they are aging-in-place at home with one or more family members, have 24/7 in-home caregiving, or are living with other elderly people in an assisted living facility. Sometimes called “the holiday blues,” people of all ages find November through January to be their loneliest time of year.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the holiday blues are “temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even memories that accompany the season.” The elderly are at an even higher risk for depression at this time of year. They are getting outside less, not exercising as much, and miss family times gone by.
Pressure to Enjoy the Holidays
There has always been pressure to enjoy and to help others enjoy the holidays. With all the restrictions brought on by COVID, it’s even harder to find ways to help our elderly loved ones feel noticed and loved. Many of them were experiencing depression and loneliness even before the holidays started. Unless we expect and plan for how to also lessen post-holiday loneliness, elderly family members are likely to feel even worse, after whatever together times we were able to manage are over.
Why the Holidays Are Even Harder for the Elderly
If you can, put your own feelings of loneliness aside and think about the additional reasons why our elderly loved ones, friends and neighbors may be having such a difficult time, and what, if anything, we can do to help them get through it. Understanding their feelings and helping them to feel some “Moments of Joy” will most likely help us to feel better, too.
Focusing on their losses is common for seniors during the holidays. They may have lost a spouse &/or friends; some degree of their health, energy and mobility; their independence, their home and the ability to do many of the things that they traditionally associated with getting ready for and enjoying during the holidays. They’ve been used to doing things for others, and now they have to depend on others more than they would like to.
Start by lowering our expectations and theirs for what can be done this year. We can probably maintain some of our family traditions, while realizing that because of age and the pandemic, many are unrealistic, and we will have to rethink them.
Try to put relationships first. Although they might need help using technology to get together with loved ones, various apps can help all family members be together virtually, at least part of the time. Besides just visiting over video conferencing platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, HangOut, Facebook, etc., you can share family photos and videos, watch Christmas movies or listen to holiday music together.
When you are visiting with an elderly loved one either in person, via the phone or over a video app, here are some tips to make the conversation more uplifting:
- Actively listen, even if what they are saying is negative or you’ve heard it many times before
- Listen for clues to what will lift their spirits
- Tell them how important they are to you and your family
- Thank them for what they have done for you during holidays past—creating family and religious traditions, cooking special recipes, giving gifts to you and your children, etc.
- Ask them to tell you things they remember and are grateful for
If you are fortunate enough to share the same house or are able to visit you loved one safely in their home, think of holiday things you could do together:
- Open holiday cards with them, empathizing over any bad news they might contain and reminiscing about friends who still keep in touch
- Help them write and address cards to friends and family members, perhaps inserting a newsy letter that can be duplicated or a simple gift of a check, cash or gift card
- Help them put out holiday decorations a little at a time, lengthening the fun and lessening fatigue
- Think of ways they can still help with cooking traditional holiday food or do other meaningful tasks
- Help them to dress in festive clothes, fix their hair and feel good about the way they look
- Help them make a list of things they could do on their own to help and lift themselves and others:
- Keep holiday music playing in the background, occasionally exercising to it
- Watch the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas shows and movies on TV
- Schedule a time each day to either call or write someone else who is also lonely
- Keep a gratitude journal; read it when they are feeling down to help them focus on the things they really value and less on what they lack
- Warm up with a special blanket, a bath or shower, a cup of hot chocolate or coffee
Ways to Ease After-the-Holiday Loneliness
Probably all of us have felt the letdown of going from being from very busy with holiday preparations and activities to having little or nothing on the calendar. We might feel disappointment that the holidays didn’t go as well as we had hoped, or we may be sad that the good times we had are over for another year. For the elderly, there’s also an adjustment to having less stimulation in their days.
Seniors may feel like they have gone from being the center of attention to barely noticed or thought of. They might feel sadness that another year has passed and fear that things will only go downhill for them in the coming days and months. With the restrictions of the pandemic are still being felt. It can help us to keep their spirits up and feelings of loneliness down, if we plan some feel-good things we can continue to do for and with them to ease the transition back to everyday life. See the above ideas!
Adding warmth and light to the dark and cold month of January might be as easy as:
- Keep more lights on, or having their favorite chair face a window
- Try to ensure that they eat warm and healthy meals that are mostly prepared by others
- See they have opportunities to get outside, move around, and go for either a drive or a short walk
- Remind them to keep up the practice of calling or writing to someone else once a day
- Help them to look forward and set goals regarding the things they have control over:
- Spend at least 15 minutes exercising every day
- Regularly read a good book or watch a good TV show
- Keep writing in and reading that gratitude journal; look forward rather than back
- Get back to an old hobby or learn to do something new
- Make a scrapbook with cards, photos and memories from the holidays just passed
- Stay active with a purpose such as decluttering or sorting possessions
Make sure your loved one knows that while it may be uncomfortable to feel lonely, it’s also OK to feel this way. Be a good listener and encourage them to express rather than ignore their feelings. Help them to focus on the future and the people and things that are really important to them now.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done for and with your loved one, remember that Dakota Home Care is here to help. With just a phone call to 877.691.0015, you can schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help with personal care, housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, or friendly companionship. We also provide a range of medical services that allow your loved one to remain at home.
Happy Holidays everyone from your friends at Dakota Home Care!